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Americans for Safe Access: February Activist Newsletter

Americans for Safe Access
Monthly Activist Newsletter

Defending Patients' Access to Medical Marijuana

Calif. County Sued over Medical Marijuana IDs

ASA accuses Solano County of violating state law

Medical marijuana advocates went to court in California last month asking local officials to respect state law. Six years after the state legislature established an ID card program for medical marijuana patients, ASA has filed suit against one of the counties that has refused to implement the program.

The 2003 law mandates that all counties in California implement a voluntary identification card program meant to assist law enforcement and provide greater protections for medical marijuana patients and their caregivers, but Solano County officials have failed to comply.

ASA Chief Counsel Joe ElfordASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford

"Solano County cannot flout its obligation under the law," said Joe Elford, ASA Chief Counsel. "This lawsuit is aimed at forcing all counties to fully implement state law and stop denying medical marijuana patients their legal rights and protections."

ASA's action follows a landmark decision from the California Fourth District Court of Appeal, rejecting San Diego County's challenge to the law. ASA's Elford was among those arguing on behalf of patients in that case.

After that July 2008 decision, ASA sent letters to officials from Solano and 15 other counties warning them that lawsuits could result if they did not take action on the ID card program. Letters were sent again in October after the state Supreme Court declined to review the case.

Since 2003, 40 of California's 58 counties have implemented the medical marijuana ID card program. As a result of ASA's letters and the new court mandate, 11 additional counties (Alpine, Fresno, Kings, Mariposa, Modoc, Nevada, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Siskiyou, Stanislaus, and Ventura) have made ID cards available or have pledged to do so.

California law directs each of the state's counties to provide medical marijuana patients and their caregivers ID cards that help law enforcement identify qualified patients and caregivers and provide those individuals protection from arrest and prosecution.

ASA to Hold Obama Administration Accountable

Staff Combines Policy Support with Political Pressure

Change has come to Washington, D.C. with the inauguration of Barack Obama as our 44th President, and ASA will be working with his administration and the new Congress to ensure that change comes to federal policy on medical cannabis as well.

Caren Woodson, Director of Governmental AffairsCaren Woodson, Director of Governmental Affairs

ASA's D.C. office, lead by Director of Government Affairs Caren Woodson, has provided members of the Obama transition team and members of Congress with detailed policy agendas and specific recommendations for lawmakers to take action on that can help meet the immediate needs of medical cannabis patients, their providers, physicians, and researchers.

During the confirmation hearings for Attorney General nominee Eric Holder, ASA lobbied committee members to ask questions about how enforcement policies will be changed to respect state laws and protect patient rights. ASA members also contacted their U.S. Senators on the issue, using the January newsletter action alert as a guide. The action may not have elicited new commitments, but it got the attention of Washington insiders, including mention in Marc Ambinder's influential politics blog for the Atlantic Monthly.

President Obama has promised to instill new respect for science in policymaking, and medical cannabis is a key area of public health where research has been ignored or blocked. And the new administration is already hearing about it.

The Obama transition team's "Citizen Briefing Book" project was designed to create a virtual white paper, authored by engaged citizens, to pitch ideas, information, and expertise to the incoming administration on a variety of topics. The issues voted the most popular were compiled and provided to President Obama upon being sworn in. Ranking third among thousands of suggestions to the transition team was a recommendation to "Stop using federal resources to undermine states' medicinal marijuana laws."

That recommendation is one ASA is working to hold President Obama accountable for, particularly since he pledged during the campaign to end federal interference in state medical cannabis programs (see this month's action alert).

After Bush loyalists in the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) staged yet another raid on a medical cannabis patient dispensary in California, just two days after President Obama was sworn in, and another in Colorado, ASA organized an immediate response, enlisting members and supporters to call the White House to register their outrage. Volunteers answering the phone reported receiving hundreds of calls, ensuring the voice of patients are being heard on Pennsylvania Avenue.

During his election night victory speech, President Obama told the country that "victory alone is not the change we seek; it is only the chance for us to make that change." By applying public pressure at all levels and providing lawmakers with detailed policy recommendations as well as political support, ASA is working to bring to medical cannabis policy the change we've been waiting for.

"The opportunity for real change is here," said Caren Woodson. "But we are counting on our members to support our legislative efforts in Washington, DC by reinforce our work in their local communities."

Among the actions ASA hopes to see the Obama Administration and the 111th Congress take are new policies that:

(1) suspend the federal resources used to interfere with state medical marijuana laws,

(2) encourage advanced clinical research trials that meet accepted scientific standards,

(3) permit affirmative defense for individuals authorized by state and local law to use or provide cannabis for therapeutic use.

With your help, ASA will be working to ensure that our government takes action.

To view ASA's recommendations and policy agenda, go to: National Policy PDF and Presidential Recommendations PDF.

ASA's Ambassador Program Finds Volunteers Across U.S.

As a grassroots organization, ASA gets its power from the people. In addition to its almost 60 chapters and affiliates working for medical cannabis laws across the country, ASA also has a dedicated network of concerned citizens. While they are not part of any chapter, they can be counted on to take action when they're called. It's these "after-work" activists that ASA is mobilizing with the launch of the new ASA Ambassador Project.

The ASA office gets calls everyday from people who don't live close to a chapter or don't have the time to start one up. But they still want to do their part - and now they can.

By signing up with ASA's new Ambassador program, they'll work on their own and with other Ambassadors in their region to educate and engage their communities. They are ASA's representatives to their families, friends, neighborhoods, political organizations, social clubs, support groups, and the communities in which they live. And they also act as important liaisons with their local, state, and federal elected officials.

"The program is taking off," said George Pappas, ASA's Field Coordinator. "People from across the country seem to have been waiting for just this opportunity. They are signing up to take the reins in representing ASA's goals."

ASA Ambassadors are already making an impact, meeting with elected officials and taking the responsibility of passing on ASA's actions to their networks.

"ASA members know that the actions we take in the next few months will help shape President Obama's medical cannabis policies for the next four to eight years," said Pappas. "It is going to take a commitment from every one of us to make real change at the Federal level."

To make that commitment, pledge to become an ASA Ambassador and join ASA's new campaign for 2009: MAKE IT SAFE. MAKE IT LEGAL. MAKE IT HAPPEN!

To sign up as an ASA Ambassador, send an email to, or visit www.Americans to receive an Ambassador Packet with info on how to get started.

Ryan Frederick Trial Goes to the Jury

We should be seeing a verdict soon in the case of Ryan Frederick, the Virginia man who was charged with murder for killing a police officer who he mistook for a burglar during a questionable drug raid.

The jury failed to return a verdict on Tuesday and will continue deliberating Wednesday. Having followed the case closely, I’m pretty worked up about it and I’ll be glued to the computer until this gets resolved. A guilty verdict would not only send an innocent man to prison, but would provide a symbolic victory for the worst aspects of drug war policing, those that created this tragedy in the first place.

Beyond all that, the trial itself has been a grand injustice, really just a classic railroading that brought out the worst of the worst as far as drug war prosecutorial tactics are concerned. Ryan Frederick is simply not the man the prosecution made him out to be, not on any level whatsoever. In one familiar example, prosecutor Paul Ebert used testimony from a "marijuana expert" to grossly exaggerate the capacity of Frederick’s personal marijuana garden:

Meinhart says 1 plant produces 1 pound of salable marijuana. 1 pound is 16 ounces, and at $400.00 per ounce is $6400.00 times 10 plants is $64000.00. [Tidewater Liberty]

Yet, as Radley Balko points out, Frederick had a not-so-great job getting up at 4 a.m. to deliver sodas. He didn’t have $64,000. Police only found 12 grams of marijuana in the raid. All of this is just pure garbage, the same bogus story recycled over and over again in every marijuana trial. But it’s particularly insidious in this case, since the goal is not only to convict Frederick of a marijuana offense, but to destroy his image before the jury and nail him on a false murder charge.

Please join me in keeping your fingers crossed that Frederick will be set free.

Medical Marijuana Raids Continue, Time for Action from Obama

Looks like DEA is trying to force a showdown with the new administration:

Washington, DC -- On the day that Eric Holder was sworn in as the next U.S. Attorney General, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) conducted raids on multiple medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles. No arrests were made, but typical of such raids, money and medical marijuana were seized from the facility. [Americans for Safe Access]

Despite President Obama’s campaign trail promises to end the DEA’s controversial attacks against state medical marijuana laws, the raids have continued under the leadership of Bush officials who have yet to be removed from office. It’s a disgraceful last minute effort to politicize the issue as the new attorney general takes office.

This is really a wicked strategy if you think about. The reality is that they simply have nothing to lose. Obama has already pledged to end these raids, so the folks who enjoy doing them are afraid they’ll be told to stop any day now. Clearly, they won’t stop until explicitly told to do so.

If DEA hopes to mount a defense of their tactics and try to persuade Obama to reverse his position, continuing the raids is their only apparent option. As ugly and unpopular as these activities have become, they must be continued in order to maintain the viability of their argument that the raids are important. After all, how important could the raids be if you aren’t even doing them?

I imagine the new president is thoroughly annoyed by all of this, as he’s hoping not to make headlines with his marijuana policy. Alas, neither the DEA nor the marijuana reform community intends to make that particularly easy for him. My assumption has generally been that Obama would quietly make the raids go away and we’d begin celebrating at an arbitrary point when it became clear that things were different. If DEA had been willing to accept that fate, things may well have played out that way.

Unfortunately, these maniacs won’t go quietly. So let’s spell it out for the new administration: You have to stop them. That’s exactly what you promised to do on the campaign trail and it clearly didn’t bite you at the ballot box. Fix this now.

Coalition for Medical Marijuana--New Jersey, Inc. Monthly Public Meeting

Monthly Public Meeting Agenda

Lawrence Township Library

Tuesday, February 10, 2009; 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM

7:00 PM:  Call meeting to order.  Approve minutes.  Discuss:

The vote by the entire NJ Senate on The New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act” (S119), as amended, is expected to take place between 2/23/09 and 3/31/09.  Contact your senator today to show your support.  If the bill passes in the senate, it will then go to the assembly.

Upcoming events:  National radio personality Chris Goldstein and CMMNJ will host a free, educational seminar on medical marijuana on Tues., 2/3/09 at 7:00 PM at the Willingboro Public Library, 220 Willingboro Parkway, Willingboro, NJ 08046 (609) 877-6668.     A second seminar is tentatively scheduled at Rutgers University/Camden Law School on 2/16/09.  Further info to follow.

The Times of Trenton published CMMNJ’s OPED, "Drug laws vs. medical science" 1/15/09.

The Nursing Spectrum, a widely read professional journal for nurses, interviewed the ED of CMMNJ and published the article, “The Great Debate: Medical Marijuana or Not?  Will New Jersey legislators pass a law in 2009?”  on 1/26/09.

 CMMNJ appeared on WIBG 1020 AM Talk Radio in Ocean City, NJ on 1/20/09 from 10AM to 11AM as guests of Dr. Bob Zlotnick on the “Hurley in the Morning” show.  A podcast of the live radio show is expected to be available soon.

Updates on Jackson, NJ Crohn’s patient Mike Miceli who was arrested for medical marijuana on 9/4/08, and Somerset County, NJ multiple sclerosis (MS) patient John Wilson who was arrested on 8/18/08 for medical marijuana.

CMMNJ has new photos, etc. on Facebook and Facebook Friends of CMMNJ.

Revised Michigan medical marijuana rules/regulations that CMMNJ commented on are due 1/30/09.

Americans for Safe Access (ASA) national conference call 1/28/09. 

Treasury report: Please consider a tax-deductible donation to CMMNJ, a 501(c)(3) organization.  Any amount is appreciated and 100% goes towards public education about medical marijuana.  CMMNJ is an all-volunteer organization—we are nothing without our volunteers!  Donations may be made securely through Paypal or checks made out to “CMMNJ” and sent to corporate headquarters at the address below.  Thank you for your support.


9:00 PM Adjourn meeting.

Next Meeting: March 10, 2009.  CMMNJ Meetings are held on the second Tuesday of the month at the Lawrence Twp. Library, from 7:00 PM until 9:00 PM.  All are welcome.  Snacks are served.  The library is located at 2751 Brunswick Pike, Lawrence Twp. (Tel. #609.882.9246).   (Meeting at the library does not imply their endorsement of our issue.)  For more info, contact:

Ken Wolski, RN, MPA
Executive Director, Coalition for Medical Marijuana--New Jersey, Inc., 844 Spruce St., Trenton, NJ 08648, (609) 394-2137

Tue, 02/10/2009 - 7:00pm - 9:00pm
2751 Brunswick Pike
Lawrenceville, NJ 08648
United States

Support for Marijuana Legalization is Growing in America

A new CBS/NYT poll finds that 41% of Americans agree that marijuana use should be legalized. While legalization still fails to garner majority support, it’s clear that we’re headed in the right direction. Notice that only 27% supported legalization in 1979:

Like 30 years ago, a majority of Americans do not think the use of marijuana should be made legal, but the percentage that thinks it should be has grown. Now, 41% of Americans support legalizing marijuana use, compared to just 27% who felt that way in 1979.


Now /1979
Yes 41% 27%
No  52% 69%

There is a huge generation gap on this issue. More adults under 45 (49%) approve of legalizing marijuana use than oppose (45%), while just 31% of adults over age 45 approve of it; six in 10 are opposed.  

The generation gap is particularly encouraging, confirming a popular theory among reformers that if we simply wait not-so-patiently, we’ll eventually win when our opposition literally drops dead.

These numbers reveal that we’re well within striking distance of achieving majority support for legalization. Moreover, we’re comfortably within the range in which meaningful reform to our marijuana laws will produce significant and vocal approval from the public. If there was ever a time when our political climate was fatally non-receptive to this idea, we have moved beyond that.

Keep in mind that the 41% result was arrived at without any particular political context. That’s just the number of people who generally walk around believing that marijuana should be legal. It’s possible to build that number significantly when the question is framed around an actual policy proposal, such as in Massachusetts where 65% of voters supported decriminalization. Because our arguments are strong, we benefit from the debate.

Legalization initiatives were unsuccessful in Nevada and Colorado in 2004, but I’d like to think that in the current change-focused political climate, it’s quite possible that similar measures would be victorious. For one thing, the departure of drug czar John Walters means we’re unlikely to face the same vicious opposition we’ve become accustomed to, as I simply do not envision Obama’s White House undertaking a regional propaganda scare-tour the next time we try something big.

The fact is that we’re moving in exactly the right direction, though not nearly as fast as any of us would prefer. We must be patient, so long as our patience doesn’t take the form of inaction. We’re entering a period of remarkable political opportunity for our cause.

The Bong Hit Heard Around the World

In case you missed it, Olympic badass Michael Phelps got photographed taking bong hits at a party and nothing will ever be the same. He’s really, really sorry about it and he urges the public to forgive him and stop taking pictures of him at parties.

Radley Balko says pretty much everything that there is to say about this, but let me add that if anyone has a problem with Michael Phelps smoking marijuana, you should look in the mirror and think about how badly you suck. I don’t care who you are, you will never be as good at anything as Michael Phelps is at swimming. He’s better than you.

For all I care, Michael Phelps can suck gravity bongs out of an Olympic swimming pool on international television with his 14 gold medals around his neck. If you’re waiting for him to sell his trophies for dope money, don’t hold your breath. Speaking of which, Michael Phelps can hold his breath longer than you.

Update: NORML's hilariously brilliant Russ Belville has this. I want it on a t-shirt.

Medical Marijuana Research Has Taken a New Direction This Century

Paul Armentano and NORML came out last month with a report, "Emerging Clinical Applications For Cannabis & Cannabinoids: A Review of the Recent Scientific Literature, 2000 — 2009," detailing the findings of scientific research on marijuana and its derivatives for treating a wide range of diseases and conditions -- ALS, Alzheimer's and Fibromyalgia, to name just a few. Paul made a significant observation in the foreword to the report:
Whereas researchers in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s primarily assessed cannabis' ability to temporarily alleviate various disease symptoms — such as the nausea associated with cancer chemotherapy — scientists today are exploring the potential role of cannabinoids to modify disease.
Most of the public has already woken up to the lie that's been told by drug warriors to justify medical prohibition of marijuana, the false claim that it has no medical uses. What may never be fully understood is the opportunities tragically lost, the good that could have been done if promising lines of research had been pursued decades earlier instead of decades later, but for our government's bizarre antagonism against a plant...

Press Advisory: Decision in Charter Challenge to Federal Medical Marijuana Program to be Issued February 2nd in B.C. Supreme Court

Contact: Kirk Tousaw at 604-836-1420 or, or Philippe Lucas at 250-884-9821 or The most comprehensive constitutional challenge to Health Canada's medical marijuana policy and practice will conclude next week in the B.C. Supreme Court. A decision will be heard in BC Supreme Court (800 Hornby Street Vancouver BC Canada) on the 2nd of February at 9 a.m., marking the final chapter of this nearly five year charter challenge. The decision is open to the public. This court case is the most extensive legal challenge ever mounted against Canada's much-maligned federal medical cannabis program. It stems from a May 2004 RCMP raid of a medical cannabis research and production facility near Sooke, B.C. overseen by the Vancouver Island Compassion Society (VICS), a non-profit medical cannabis organization located in Victoria, B.C. The raid resulted in the destruction of over 900 cannabis plants being cultivated for the 400+ members of the VICS, all of whom use medical cannabis with the support of their physicians, and to the arrest of Mr. Mat Beren, who was the VICS employee responsible for the facility at the time of the raid. "Our hope is that the courts will come to the aid of Canada's critically and chronically ill by defending their constitutional right to access and use medical cannabis from a safe source without unnecessary bureaucratic delays or obstacles," said Philippe Lucas, the founder and director of the VICS and a newly elected municipal councillor in the city of Victoria. "Canadians have a well-established legal right to access medical cannabis," added Kirk Tousaw, counsel to Mr. Beren. "It is tragic that Health Canada has not put in place a system to effectively allow patients to exercise that right. Because of their failure, the arrest and prosecution of both patients and caregivers continue to this day." The VICS is a medical cannabis non-profit society founded in 1999 that currently supplies a safe source of cannabis-based medicines to over 850 critically or chronically ill Canadians with a doctors¹ recommendation for its use. Where/When: Vancouver's Provincial Court (800 Hornby St.) on the 2nd of Feb. at 9:00 a.m. What: Final decision in Regina v. Beren Charter challenge Press: Press conference to follow decision (10:15 a.m. EST)
Vancouver, BC

Feature: New Mexico Issues Regulations for Nonprofit Medical Marijuana Grows

Earlier this month, the New Mexico Department of Health issued its long overdue regulations for state-licensed, nonprofit medical marijuana providers, making it the first state to do so. Advocates say the new rules will allow for expanded access to medical marijuana for qualified patients. Not everyone is happy.
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson signing a bill into law
The process was long and involved, with numerous state agencies and law enforcement entities, as well as patients and advocates all trying to ensure that their interests and concerns were met. Originally mandated to be done by October 2007, the regulations were only finalized this month, with the Department of Health making late revisions based on public comments to earlier versions.

Under the newly promulgated regulations, nonprofit providers can grow no more than 95 plants, including both mature plants and seedlings, and can possess an amount of medical marijuana "that reflects current qualified patient needs." The nonprofits must sell medicine at constant unit prices and without volume discounts.

In order to apply for provider status, the nonprofits must provide copies of their articles of incorporation and bylaws, a list of all people involved in operating the facility, a list of all people who have a 5% or greater ownership in the facility, and have a board of directors that includes at least one health care professional and three qualified New Mexico medical marijuana patients. All of these people must also undergo a criminal background check.

But wait, there's more. As the regulations state:

All applicants must develop, implement and maintain on the premises policies and procedures relating to the medical cannabis program. At a minimum, the policies and procedures will include the following criteria:

  • Distribution criteria for qualified patients or caregivers appropriate for medical cannabis services.
  • Distribution criteria must include a clear identifiable photocopy of each registry identification card of a qualified patient and the patient's caregiver (if applicable) who are served by the nonprofit.
  • Policies and procedures relating to an alcohol and drug free workplace program.
  • A job description or employment contract developed for all employees, which includes duties, authority, responsibilities, qualifications and supervision.
  • A personnel record for each employee that includes an application for employment and a record of any disciplinary action taken.
  • On-site training curriculum, or enter into contractual relationships with outside resources capable of meeting employee training needs, which includes but is not limited to:
    a) Professional conduct, ethics and patient confidentiality.
    b) Informational developments in the field of medical cannabis.
  • Training in security measures and specific instructions on how to respond to an emergency, including robbery or a violent accident.
  • All nonprofits will prepare training documentation for each employee and have employees sign a statement indicating the date, time and place the employee received training and topics discussed, to include the name and title of presenters. The nonprofit will maintain documentation of an employee's training for at least six (6) months after termination of employment.

The new regulations also require patients who are growing their own to submit an application. Patients can grow up to four flowering plants and 12 seedlings. They can also possess up to six ounces of usable marijuana.

"We have worked hard to create a medical cannabis program that will be viable and meet the needs of patients in New Mexico," said Health Secretary Dr. Alfredo Vigil when the regulations were announced. "Now patients can get medical cannabis for their chronic health conditions in a way that is safe and legal under state law."

"I think the regulations will serve the patients of New Mexico well," said Melissa Milam, administrator of the Medical Cannabis Program in the state Department of Health. "I'm really happy that we are moving forward; I think that's better than to continue having this drawn-out debate over the regulations."

The first application by a nonprofit organization was accepted last week, said Milam. "We expect several more soon," she added. One hold-up, she said, was the requirement that all members of the nonprofit's board of directors pass a background check. "We're asking them to do that through the state Department of Public Safety, and those take about two weeks to process," Milam said.

Advocates are hoping the new regulations are a first step only. "We were able to get a lot of the changes we wanted into the regulations, so we're glad that the governor's office was receptive, but we didn't get everything we wanted," said Reena Szczepanski, head of the Drug Policy Alliance New Mexico office, which worked closely with Gov. Richardson for years to push medical marijuana through the legislature. "There will be room in the future to look at things like the regulations on nonprofits and plant limits."

That's because the regulations call for an annual evaluation report, Szczepanski said. "We were able to get that yearly evaluation in there, and that will give us a chance to look at revisions in the future in light of how well the program is meeting the needs of patients. We also wanted state-run providers and didn't get that. That's another thing we can look at in coming years," she said.

Some advocates wish the department had gotten it right the first time around. Bernie Ellis, MA, MPH, an epidemiologist with more than 20 years experience in substance abuse-related research and administration, is one of them. Ellis has worked for medical marijuana in New Mexico for years, dating back to the days of Gov. Gary Johnson. Ellis also brings with him the bitter experience of a federal medical marijuana prosecution in Tennessee where he currently resides. He submitted detailed recommendations on the regulations during the public comment period last year, which interested readers can obtain by contacting him via the link above.

"The biggest frustration that I share with other medical marijuana activists nationally is that the New Mexico legislation could have been the gold standard for administering medical cannabis programs, but instead it has turned out to be just one more 'same old-same old' program with unrealistically low limits on the amount of cannabis patients can possess and providers can grow," said Ellis. "Limiting patients to no more than six ounces of medicine means that patients who grow outdoors will face arrest for possessing any more cannabis than their first six weeks supply. Limiting providers to 95 plants, including those in vegetative growth, means the producers will be able to produce medicine for no more than six patients apiece."

According to Ellis, there are at least 46,000 New Mexicans whose medical conditions currently make them eligible for the state's program, and the state is now considering adding more qualifying conditions. "With these regulations, we are talking about the potential need to license about 7,500 producers (or more) to serve a population like that, instead of licensing a smaller number of producers who could produce at a more realistic level," he said.

Ellis had argued for much larger state-licensed medicinal grows. "I have done preliminary cost and staffing estimates for providers growing an acre of cannabis, which would serve several hundred patients," he said. "There is no state better than New Mexico to do this right. The population there has centuries of medicinal use of this substance, the cultural climate is very favorable for success, and Gov. Richardson put a considerable amount of his own political capital to work to get this passed. But now, after a fifteen month delay releasing the program regulations, we have a program with unrealistically low limits on patients and providers, which will allow patents to be 'legal' only a few months of the year."

"The federal government doesn't seem to get involved with less than 99 plants or 99 pounds; that's where that number comes from," said Milam. "It is a measure to protect providers."

More importantly, said Milam, the patients seem satisfied. "No patients have complained to me about the plant limits," she said. "If they don't have a problem with it, I don't either."

The regulations contain a safety valve for patients, Szczepanski noted. "If a need is indicated by their medical provider, patients can apply to possess amounts over the limit," she pointed out.

The limits on providers also have another negative consequence, Ellis argued. "With those sorts of limits, producers will not have the ability to reduce the price for medical cannabis below the current illicit price, which would defeat the goals of a program like New Mexico's," he said. "If you tell a nonprofit it is limited to 95 plants and it has to set up an elaborate security system and staff the effort commensurate with the security and horticultural needs, I don't see how they will be able to reduce the market price doing that. A larger, properly staffed facility could bring those prices down. Right now, the few providers I've talked to in New Mexico say they're just buying cannabis for patients from the illegal market and paying $200-$500 an ounce for it. I think if it were done right, we could get the cost down to around $50 an ounce."

"We're a very poor state, and many of the patients are on Medicaid or disability," said Milam. "California may have dispensaries everywhere, but they're charging black market prices. Our patients can't afford to pay $400 an ounce on top of their other medications. We're trying to set it up so marijuana is an affordable medication," she said, adding that she was sure licensed growers could beat black market prices.

"The state of New Mexico said it wanted to make cannabis available on demand to patients," Ellis continued, "but the way they're treating medical marijuana patients is analogous to telling a patient with a major infection that she needs penicillin immediately, and then handing her a loaf of bread and instructions on growing her own antibiotics. If a cancer patient has to undergo chemotherapy soon after diagnosis, he needs access to medical cannabis then, not five to seven months down the road when his first harvest might be ready."

Milam didn't disagree. "I've had doctors call me saying their patient needed medical marijuana on an emergency basis, and I have had to tell them to tell their patients to go find it themselves. This is a prime example of why the federal government needs to get marijuana rescheduled as Schedule II. The patients need to be able to go to the pharmacy and pick it up when they need it."

Despite his litany of criticisms of the new regulations, Ellis took pains to emphasize he supports the New Mexico medical marijuana program. "I am a proponent of the New Mexico approach as outlined in their legislation, but an opponent of the current regulations. Martin Luther King once said he would not have had the success he did in the civil rights arena without [black radical] Stokely Carmichael and others agitating for change. I'm trying to be Stokely Carmichael on this. If we don't watch out, they can incrementalize us, and too many patients, to death."

There are currently 207 patients registered with the New Mexico Department of Health. Now, they will soon have the opportunity to procure their medicine through the nonprofits -- or at least a few months after one actually gets up and running. In addition to the one application already in process, said Milam, at least two more are going through the criminal background check requirement and should be applying soon.

Whether and how well the new regulations will serve the needs of patients remains to be seen. "We will be monitoring the implementation, and we've been doing that through this whole process," said Szczepanski. "As these nonprofits are going forward, we will be watching to see if they are approved and if not, why not, and making sure the regs are being followed."

Press Release: DEA Defies Obama Pledge, Raids Medical Marijuana State, Denies Marijuana FDA Research

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: JANUARY 29, 2009 CONTACT: Dan Bernath, MPP assistant director of communications, 202-462-5747, ext. 2030 DEA Defies Obama Pledge, Raids Medical Marijuana State, Denies Marijuana FDA Research Medical Marijuana Advocates Call on New President to Rein in Rogue Drug Enforcement Administration WASHINGTON — Officials at the Marijuana Policy Project today accused the Drug Enforcement Administration of defying President Barack Obama's stated position by raiding a California medical marijuana dispensary and called on the president to immediately replace Bush administration holdovers at the DEA. The DEA raided a medical marijuana dispensary in Lake Tahoe, Calif., Jan. 22 – only two days after President Obama's inauguration. During the presidential campaign, Obama repeatedly promised not to waste federal resources interfering in states with laws protecting medical marijuana patients from arrest, and he told Southern Oregon's Mail Tribune editorial board on March 28, 2008, "I'm not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue." MPP also urged President Obama to instruct the Bush-appointed current administrator of the DEA to delay a final ruling on a Motion to Reconsider its Jan. 12 decision to deny an application by a University of Massachusetts-Amherst researcher to grow research-grade marijuana in a secure facility, arguing that Obama's own administrator should get to make that decision once in place. The DEA's Jan. 12 denial was one among a series of unrelated 11th-hour regulatory actions the Bush administration attempted to finalize before leaving office. The DEA could rule on the motion as early as Monday unless the White House stops Bush holdover, Michele Leonhart, the DEA administrator. The DEA's Jan. 12 decision came nearly two years after the its own administrative law judge, Mary Ellen Bittner, ruled that approving the application would "be in the public's interest" and after years of delay on the part of the Bush administration. "On the first day of the new administration, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel issued a memo to departments and agencies directing them to hold off on issuing final regulations until President Obama's appointees have a chance to review them," said Aaron Houston, MPP director of government relations. "We're just asking for the same thing here. We'd like a fair hearing from new leadership at the DEA." With more than 26,000 members and 100,000 e-mail subscribers nationwide, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States. MPP believes that the best way to minimize the harm associated with marijuana is to regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. For more information, please visit ####

Drug War Issues

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