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Medical Marijuana Bill Faces Senate Committee Hearing Tuesday

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MARCH 2, 2009  

Medical Marijuana Bill Faces Senate Committee Hearing Tuesday

CONTACT: Former Rep. Chris DeLaForest (R-Andover)..........................................…………(763) 439-1178

ST. PAUL, MINNESOTA — Minnesota's medical marijuana bill faces its next crucial committee test in the Senate Judiciary Committee this Tuesday. If passed, the measure would make Minnesota the 14th state to permit medical use of marijuana by seriously ill patients with a physician's recommendation. The newest such law, in Michigan, was passed by voters in November with a record-setting 63 percent voting "yes."

    WHAT: Senate Judiciary Committee hearing and vote on medical marijuana legislation
    WHO: Sen. Steve Murphy (DFL-Red Wing) and committee members
    WHEN: Tuesday, March 3, 3 p.m.
    WHERE: Rm. 15, State Capitol, 75 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., St. Paul

United States

Obama administration ends DEA raids in California!

Dear friends:

When I spoke with Barack Obama at a Capitol Hill reception in September 2004 (two months before his election to the U.S. Senate), he said he agreed with me that states should have the right to determine their own medical marijuana policies without federal interference.

That was the beginning of a series of events that culminated two days ago, when Attorney General Eric Holder announced — while standing next to the current DEA administrator — there will be no more DEA raids on medical marijuana establishments in California or elsewhere. This is significant, given that Holder is the "top cop" of the nation and the boss of the DEA!

Medical marijuana patients, dispensary owners and staffers, growers, MPP staffers, and other activists are breathing a sigh of relief ... having been terrorized by the Bush administration for eight years.  How did we get to this point?

Please watch this one-minute video clip of Obama responding to one of our campaign volunteers in New Hampshire on August 21, 2007, in the heat of the presidential primary campaign ...

After that, Obama publicly reiterated that he would discontinue Bush's policy, including in an interview with the editorial board of an Oregon paper. And, since Obama was elected, we've kept in touch with high-level staffers in the White House and on his transition team, as a way of keeping this issue on their radar screen until the policy was officially changed. 

Then, when Bush holdovers in the DEA raided five medical marijuana dispensaries in California in the days after Obama took office on January 20, MPP barraged the media and MPP members barraged the Obama administration to demand an end to the DEA's raids (and to fire the Bush holdovers).

And, of course, MPP and a host of other organizations — including conservative groups like Citizens Against Government Waste — have built support for the annual vote (from 2003 to 2007) on the House floor for an amendment that would have forbidden the DEA and the Justice Department from spending taxpayer money to subvert state-level medical marijuana laws.

All of this advocacy by thousands of patients, dispensary owners, volunteers, paid lobbyists, medical associations, and so many others has paid off. You did it; we all did it.

Now it's time for us to take our work to the next level by (1) enacting medical marijuana laws in Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and New York; (2) improving California's and Rhode Island's existing medical marijuana laws in order to provide licenses to dispensaries in both states; (3) reopening the federal "compassionate IND program" so that patients in all 50 states can obtain legal access to medical marijuana; and (4) passing our medical marijuana ballot initiative in Arizona in November 2010.

Please consider making a financial donation to all of this work.  Thanks so much ...

Kampia signature (e-mail sized)

Rob Kampia
Executive Director
Marijuana Policy Project
Washington, D.C.

REPORTER:  "Right after the inauguration, there were some raids on California medical marijuana dispensaries. Was that a deliberate decision by you, by the Justice Department? As a prediction of policy going forward, do you expect those sorts of raids to continue? (muffled) The president said during the campaign —"

ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER:  "Well, what the president said during the campaign, you'll be surprised to know, will be consistent with what we'll be doing here in law enforcement. He was my boss during the campaign, he is formally and technically and by law my boss now, and so what he said during the campaign is now American policy."

Press Release: Attorney General Eric Holder Says Obama Administration Will End Bush's Policy of Arresting Medical Marijuana Patients and Providers

For Immediate Release: February 26, 2009 For More Information: Bill Piper at 202-669-6430 or Tony Papa at 646-420-7290 Attorney General Eric Holder Says Obama Administration Will End Bush’s Policy of Arresting Medical Marijuana Patients and Providers In response to a reporter’s question yesterday, Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department will no longer raid medical marijuana dispensaries in states where they are legal. His statement was the second time this month that the Obama Administration indicated they would discontinue President Bush’s controversial policy of arresting medical marijuana patients and providers. President Obama said on the campaign trail last year that he would end the raids. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) raided a medical marijuana dispensary in California on the day President Obama took office and raided several dispensaries on the day Eric Holder took office. Asked yesterday if such raids were going to continue, Holder said “No.” "What the president said during the campaign, you'll be surprised to know, will be consistent with what we'll be doing in law enforcement. He was my boss during the campaign. He is formally and technically and by law my boss now. What he said during the campaign is now American policy." In a statement a few weeks ago, a White House spokesperson said, "The President believes that federal resources should not be used to circumvent state laws, and as he continues to appoint senior leadership to fill out the ranks of the federal government, he expects them to review their policies with that in mind." "Within 24 hours of taking office President Obama signaled his Administration would eliminate the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity and support federal funding for syringe exchange programs," said Ethan Nadelmann executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Now his attorney general is saying the Administration will let states set their own marijuana policies. While certainly not a high priority, it seems clear that the President wants to treat drug use as a health issue not a criminal justice issue."

Feature: California Assemblyman Introduces Landmark Bill to Legalize, Tax, and Regulate Marijuana

California Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) told a press conference in his home town Monday he had introduced a bill that would create a system of taxed and regulated legal marijuana sales and production. If the bill were to pass, California would become the first state in the nation to break so decisively with decades of pot prohibition.
Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, sponsor of AB 390
Under the bill, AB 390, the state would license producers and distributors, who would pay an excise tax of $50 per ounce, or about $1 per joint. Anyone 21 or over could then purchase marijuana from a licensed distributor. The bill also would allow any adult to grow up to 10 plants for personal, non-commercial use. The bill would not alter California's medical marijuana law.

Ironically it was California which passed the nation's first marijuana prohibition bill, in 1913, according to a history compiled by Drug WarRant's Peter Guither. Federal marijuana prohibition was enacted in 1937.

As currently written, the taxation and regulation aspects of AB 390 would not go into effect until six months after federal marijuana laws were changed, but the removal of marijuana as a controlled substance under California law would go into effect upon passage of the bill. That is likely to change.

"We've just come through a torturous budget process in this state, and the marijuana industry in California is $14 billion going up in smoke," said Ammiano. "We need to capture some of that. This would also allow us to save money on law enforcement, incarceration, and even the environment."

According to research done by the state Board of Equalization, which handles taxes for the state, legalizing and taxing marijuana sales would generate about $1.3 billion in tax revenues a year. It would also, the board said, lead to a 50% decrease in retail prices.
Oakland City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan
"This is a responsible measure for prioritizing law enforcement," the board's Betty Yee told the assembled media. "These numbers are a credible new estimate."

"It's ironic that the largest cash crop in the state is not being taxed," said Oakland City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan. "We need to devote our law enforcement resources to violent crime. We're losing the war. It's time for regulation and fiscal responsibility."

"This bill is a winning proposition for California's taxpayers," said Dale Gieringer of California NORML (CANORML). "In this time of economic crisis, it makes no sense for California to be wasting money on marijuana prohibition, when we could be reaping tax benefits from a legal, regulated market instead."

It also comes at a time when support for marijuana legalization on the West Coast has gained majority status. In a Zogby International poll released last week, 58% of West Coast respondents said they favored taxing and regulating marijuana.

"This is indicative of what an important moment we are at," said Bruce Mirken, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "This week, we saw Dan Walters, a middle of the road columnist for the Sacramento Bee do a column saying now is the time to do this. The Los Angeles Times said it was time for the feds to rethink this. There is a growing sense that Ammiano has captured that the way we've been dealing with marijuana since 1937 doesn't make a bit of sense and rethinking is required."
Judge James P. Gray, Orange County Superior Court
"This is landmark legislation," said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). "There has never been a legalization bill in the history of marijuana law reform. This is the first such bill."

But, St. Pierre revealed, before summer is here, at least two more states will see similar bills. "California is leading the country in the discussion, but it won't be by itself. By June, there will be 45 or 50 million people having a discussion about legalizing marijuana -- not decrim, not medical, not lowest law enforcement priority, but marijuana legalization."

"I think with the introduction of this bill, we have reached the tipping point in the discussion about marijuana," said St. Pierre. "When the largest state in the nation, facing crushing economic times, is forced to review the festering situation of all that untaxed marijuana and it already has the example of retail access through the dispensaries, the discussion has changed."

"You don't know if you're at the tipping point until you've gone past it, but we could be," said Mirken. "Nobody imagines it's going to get done overnight, but we've suddenly reached the point where it's no longer a fringe issue, and that's huge."

"I think this is the beginning of the end," said Southern California legalization activist Clifford Shaffer, creator of the Let Us Pay Taxes web site, which pleads "Take our Money Please," purportedly on behalf of the California marijuana industry. "A number of factors have come together, such as public education, the obvious failure of the drug war, and the economy, and they are producing a 'perfect storm' for reform. We will see big changes in the coming year and this bill is a good start," Shaffer predicted.

Acceptable progress this year, said Mirken, would be for the bill to move forward at all. "A good year would be getting a couple of committee hearings and though a couple of committees, laying the groundwork for actual passage in a year or two. The conversation was long overdue, but it has now been engaged."

"I'm not so naïve as to think it will pass this year," agreed CANORML's Gieringer. "I think the conflict with federal law will pose problems with law enforcement for sure, and we know the governor always supports law enforcement. This is the opening shot in a process that could take several years to work out, but we have now opened the debate. For all the years I've been dealing with this issue, politicians have been afraid to say anything more than medical marijuana or decriminalization, but as long as you don't move beyond decrim, you still get all the problems of prohibition," he argued.

"It's essential to get past decriminalization; it keeps the problems of prohibition and doesn't bring any revenue to the state," Gieringer continued. "We need a viable solution, not some half-baked one that wouldn't solve the problems. And I think we're close to having a majority here in California. I know we have majority support in Oakland, San Francisco, and other parts of Northern California. I think we're getting there."

It's been 96 years since California passed that first marijuana prohibition law. Can prohibition be ended before it enters its second century? Thanks to Assemblyman Ammiano's AB 390, we can dream that maybe it just might.

Job Opportunity II: Executive Director, Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition, Providence, RI

The Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition (RIPAC) is hiring an executive director for its Providence office.

The executive director will lead RIPAC, both executing day-to-day operations and planning long-term strategic goals. The executive director will develop advocacy strategies and implement campaigns on the state and municipal levels. He or she will manage the organization's office and full-time and part-time staff, and administer the organization's finances and accounting. He or she will also be RIPAC's point person in conducting outreach to the media, other advocacy organizations, patients, caregivers, law enforcement, the medical profession, funders and citizens. This will include scheduling and facilitating educational presentations and patient meetings, and editing print publications and web pages. The executive director will secure RIPAC's six-figure annual budget through grants and donations. The successful candidate will enter training May 1, 2009 and assume full responsibility August 1, 2009. This is a full-time position with an annual salary of $40,000 plus flexible health benefits.

Qualifications include a college degree or equivalent experience, with preference given to candidates with backgrounds in law, law enforcement, or medicine; excellent organizational skills and attention to detail; excellent interpersonal communication skills and proven ability to quickly build and maintain relationships with individuals in medical, legal, and government settings; reliable access to a car and the ability to travel within Rhode Island as needed; excellent writing skills; and proficiency with Microsoft Office (including Word, PowerPoint, Excel). The ability to speak Spanish is an advantage, but is not required, and experience maintaining web sites in HTML is an advantage, but is not required.

To apply, send a cover letter, resume, and two professional references to RIPAC at or 145 Wayland Avenue, Providence, RI 02906. Applications will be accepted until February 28, 2009.

RIPAC is Rhode Island's grassroots medical marijuana community of patients, caregivers, and advocates. RIPAC connects and educates patients, doctors, nurses, lawyers, police, reporters, and legislators about medical marijuana in Rhode Island. RIPAC is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Visit for further information.

Public Opinion: Kellogg Reputation Takes a Hit Over Dumping Michael Phelps

The reverberations from the Michael Phelps bong photo continue. Kellogg cereal company's refusal to renew the Olympic gold medalist's endorsement contract led to calls from drug reformers and others to boycott Kellogg.

It is unclear what kind of traction, if any, the boycott is getting, but one web site that measures companies' reputations is reporting that Kellogg has been in a slide since it dumped the bong-holding swimmer. Vanno: The Company Reputation Index had Kellogg ranked ninth out of some 5,600 companies it lists before it dumped Phelps. Now, two weeks later, Kellogg has declined to number 84.

The Phelps affair wasn't the only thing affecting Kellogg's reputation early this year. The food giant also suffered negative publicity from the tainted peanut butter scandal. But Kellogg's rank only declined from ninth to sixteenth before it dumped Phelps; since then, the decline has been steep and rapid.

Measuring corporate reputations is an inexact science, and Vanno's method, while showing trends, is not precise. Vanno creates its rankings from real-time surveys on its web site filtered through a Bayesian algorithm, similar to those used in spam filters and to spot credit card fraud. Still, the rapid decline in Kellogg's ranking suggests that its 1950s-style response to an Olympic pot smoker has hurt the company.

Medical Marijuana: New Jersey Bill Passes State Senate

The New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act (S119) passed the state Senate Monday on a 22-16 vote. Gov. Jon Corzine (D) said Wednesday he would "absolutely" sign the bill, but it must first get through the Assembly, where it faces votes in the health committee and by the Assembly as a whole.

The day was also notable for what happened right after the bill passed. Senate President Richard Codey (D-Essex), a well-known jokester, pretended to answer a phone on the podium, then yelled out to bill sponsor Sen. Nick Scutari (D-Linden): "Excuse me, Sen. Scutari, I just what you to know that was congratulating you, and it was from Michael Phelps," to groans and embarrassed laughter from the chamber, which, not surprisingly, contained several seriously ill medical marijuana patients but no college-aged bong-hitters.

And that could be a sign of changing times, too. The joke went over like a lead balloon, a local TV station made an evening news feature of Codey's joke and the unamused reactions of medical marijuana patients and supporters, and the Asbury Park Press even editorialized that Codey should apologize for his "tasteless gag." The days of cheap laughs from comparing seriously, even terminally ill patients with Cheech & Chong may be coming to an end.
Jim Miller, husband of well-known patient/activist the late Cheryl Miller, at CMMNJ press conference introducing Sen. Scutari's first medical marijuana bill
Under the bill, there would be no penalties for the possession, use and cultivation of a small amount of marijuana when a licensed physician recommends it for a patient with a debilitating medical condition. Qualifying medical conditions include chronic pain, cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, and Crohn's disease. Patients would be issued ID cards in a program run by the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) and permitted to grow up to six plants and possess one ounce of marijuana, or have a registered caregiver grow it for them.

"The bill is very conservative," said Ken Wolski, executive director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana-New Jersey. "No medical marijuana state has a smaller plant limit or possession amount. Still, it will help a tremendous number of patients here. We applaud the senators who supported this bill."

Still, bill sponsor Sen. Nick Scutari (D-Linden) was understandably proud. "If medical marijuana can ease some of the suffering of a patient who's dying from a chronic, severe or terminal disease, state government should not stand in the way of that relief," Scutari said after the vote.

"For the sake of our most vulnerable, our sick and dying patients struggling for relief, now is the time for New Jersey to join the growing list of states allowing compassionate use of medical marijuana," said Roseanne Scotti of the Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey office.

On Wednesday, Gov. Corzine reiterated his previously articulated support for medical marijuana legislation. Appearing on WNYC radio's "Brian Lehrer Show," he responded to a question about whether he would sign this bill by saying "absolutely."

Now, it's on to the state Assembly. If the bill makes it to the governor's desk, New Jersey would become the 14th medical marijuana state, joining Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.

Feature: End of an Era? No More DEA Raids on Medical Marijuana Dispensaries, US Attorney General Says

In response to a question at a Wednesday news conference, US Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department will no longer raid medical marijuana dispensaries in states where they are legal under state law. The announcement marks the fulfillment of a President Obama campaign promise, and it marks the end of 13 years of stubborn federal resistance to state medical marijuana programs.


DEA raids of medical marijuana facilities in California continued after Obama's election in November and even after his inauguration last month. Holder was asked if those raids represented Justice Department policy under the new administration.

"Shortly after the inauguration there were raids on California medical marijuana dispensaries. Do you expect these to continue?" the reporter asked, noting that the president had promised to end the raids in the campaign.

"No," Holder responded. "What the president said during the campaign, you'll be surprised to know, will be consistent with what we'll be doing in law enforcement. He was my boss during the campaign. He is formally and technically and by law my boss now. What he said during the campaign is now American policy." (Watch the video here.)

Nearly 75 million Americans live in the 13 states where medical marijuana is legal. But because of the federal government's refusal to recognize state medical marijuana laws, dozens of dispensaries in California have been raided by the DEA, typically in over-the-top paramilitary-style operations. More than a hundred people are facing prosecution, sentencing, or are already imprisoned under draconian federal marijuana laws because of their roles in operating dispensaries.

"There has been a lot of collateral damage in the federal campaign against medical marijuana patients," said Steph Sherer, medical marijuana patient and executive director of Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the nation's largest medical cannabis advocacy organization. "We need to stop the prosecutions, bring the prisoners home, and begin working to eliminate the conflict between state and federal medical marijuana laws."

At an ASA press conference hastily called for Thursday afternoon, Sherer elaborated. "I'm overjoyed to finally hold a press conference with some great news," she said. "Today is a victory and a huge step forward in what has been at times a cruel and tragic period. My outrage over the raids was shared by millions of Americans, and now our collective voice has been heard in Washington. We look forward to working with the Obama administration to harmonize the conflicts with state laws once and for all."
Charlie Lynch (from
But for some patients and dispensary operators, the damage has already been done. Larry Epstein operates a legal medical cannabis dispensing collective in Marina Del Rey, California, that was raided by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) on February 4, despite President Obama's statements on the campaign trail indicating a change in federal policy.

"We had been operating as a legitimate cooperative dispensary per California law for a number of years," said Epstein. "But the DEA came in here as if we were operating an illegal drug cartel. They stole all our property, all our product, and froze our bank accounts. Now, we can't pay our taxes; that's part of what they stole. It's devastating when they do those types of actions, never mind the hundreds of patients who rely on our facility to get their medicine."

Heather Poet operates a medical cannabis dispensing collective in Santa Barbara, California. The Justice Department has pressured her landlord to evict the collective using threats of prosecution and civil asset forfeiture. Her case prompted US Representative Lois Capps (D-CA) to ask Attorney General Holder to stop any and all prosecutions of property owners in a February 16 letter.

"Our landlord has twice been threatened by the US Attorney for the Central District of California, most recently just last month," Poet said. "If he did not initiate the termination of our lease for the 'illegal use' of his property -- we were operating legally under California law -- they would begin forfeiture proceedings against his property. That's when I contacted Rep. Capps. Within a week, she had contacted ASA and begun working on that letter. We are so grateful and proud of her for working so quickly to protect our rights and those of our patients. This has been a real travesty for so many sick people in California who have had to worry. Now, thousands of people will be able to breathe easier."

One person who isn't breathing easier just yet is Charles C. Lynch, a Morro Bay dispensary operator arrested and convicted on federal marijuana distribution charges. Lynch faces the dubious distinction of being perhaps the last person sent to prison under the federal war against medical marijuana; he faces at least a five-year mandatory minimum sentence when he is sentenced March 23.

"I became a medical marijuana patient in 2005 and decided we needed a dispensary here in the San Luis Obispo area so patients didn't have to drive 90 miles to Santa Barbara," Lynch explained. "Before I opened the dispensary, I called the DEA and asked them their policy. They told me it was up to the cities and towns, so I got a business license from the city of Morro Bay, and opened up on April 1, 2006. The mayor, the city attorney, and council members all came by to visit the facility. We even joined the Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce. I did everything I thought was necessary to run a legitimate business."

But thanks to a recalcitrant local sheriff who, lacking any basis under state law to go after the dispensary, sicced the DEA on it, Lynch's dispensary was raided. "In March 2007, they raided me, took all my money and froze my bank account. They made it sound like I was selling drugs to children in the schoolyard. The city of Morro Bay reissued my business license -- the DEA had stolen it, too -- and I reopened for business. Two weeks later, the DEA threatened my landlord with forfeiture unless he evicted us for good, so on March 16, 2007, the dispensary closed for good."

That has been sufficient to slake the fed's thirst for vengeance in many dispensary raids: Trash the premises, steal the money and property, and drive the business out of existence. But in other cases, federal prosecutors wanted an extra pound of flesh and actually prosecuted dispensary operators. Charles Lynch falls into that unfortunate latter category.

"On July 17, 2007, I woke up to federal agents banging down my door with an arrest warrant for federal marijuana distribution charges," Lynch related. "I had a spotless record, but I had to post a $400,000 bond to get out of federal detention. The DEA and the sheriff did everything in their power to defame me, destroy me, and destroy my life. Now, I have been found guilty on five counts of distribution and await sentencing. I'm filing for bankruptcy, my friends are scared to talk to me because the feds are breathing down my neck. They've destroyed my life."

Clearly, Attorney General Holder's announcement Wednesday is a major breakthrough for the medical marijuana movement. Just as clearly, there are still messes to clean up and injustices to be righted. It is only when there is no one remaining in or threatened with federal prison for helping sick patients that the medical marijuana movement will have achieved real justice.

Medical Marijuana Raids are Officially Over

In a press conference intended to celebrate a series of DEA raids on Mexican cartels operating in the U.S., Attorney General Eric Holder was asked about the medical marijuana raids. He said this:

What's particularly delightful about this is that DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart was standing right next to him. It would have been nice if the cameras had turned to capture Leonhart's expression as her new boss announced the termination of the vicious campaign for which she bears great responsibility.

Although we've known this was coming for some time now, it's particularly gratifying to watch the Attorney General's mouth form the words we've waited 10 years to hear. So many have sacrificed so much to get us to this point. There were so many times when this fight looked hopeless to everyone but us, which is worth keeping in mind the next time someone tells us we're asking for too much.

As a decade of bad policy is brushed aside with scarcely a whimper, it's becoming clear how fictitious and contrived this debate has been from the beginning. One can scarcely overstate how ridiculously unfounded the fears of our political culture have proven to be. It's amazing to think that our government remained invested in this preposterous crusade for so long not because our leaders necessarily believed in it, but often because they simply lacked the courage to consider a change of course.

As sad as that sounds, there's a lesson here in that the best arguments for reform will often have more to do with politics than policy.

NJ Senate President Embarrasses Himself With Bad Pot Joke

The New Jersey Senate passed a medical marijuana bill on Monday, prompting State Senate President Richard J. Codey to utter one of the worst pot jokes I've ever heard:

Dude, you're not Jay Leno. Sadly, it's hard to imagine what threshold must be crossed before sick and dying patients can receive protection under the law without having to endure the completely banal, sophomoric comedy stylings of some of America's least funny people.

Too many public officials, news anchors, and journalists still think pot jokes are a free ride to funnytown, and we'll usually give them a pass on it, even as they unleash one sorry groaner after another. But the line ought to be drawn on the senate floor, when seriously ill patients are in the room. That is just basic professional courtesy.

Fortunately, FOX at least picked up the story and acknowledged the controversy that this type of childish behavior provokes. Hopefully, we are moving towards a point when legitimate medical marijuana patients are left alone, not only by police, but by bad amateur comedians in all sectors of public service.

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