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They Won't Give Up -- Alaska Supreme Court Hears Oral Argument in State's Bid to Overturn Legal Marijuana At Home

For more than 30 years, Alaska's courts have held that the state constitution's privacy protections barred the state from criminalizing adults possessing and consuming small amounts of marijuana in the privacy of their homes. Although voters passed an initiative recriminalizing marijuana in 1991 and more than a decade passed before the courts found that measure unconstitutional, Alaska's courts have never wavered from the landmark 1975 decision in Ravin v. State that legalized home possession.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/murkowskiwalters.jpg
propaganda show by Gov. Murkowski and drug czar Walters
That has never set well with prohibitionists, as evidenced by the 1991 initiative. Two years ago, after the courts restated their adherence to Ravin, then-Gov. Frank Murkowski (R) tried again to undo the status quo. Then, he managed to push through the legislature a bill that would once again recriminalize marijuana possession, and he stacked it with a series of "legislative findings" based on one-sided science designed to make the case that the nature of marijuana had changed so dramatically since the 1970s that Alaska's courts should rethink their position.

But when that law took effect in June 2006, the ACLU of Alaska sued the state, and Juneau Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins struck it down that summer, saying it conflicted with the state supreme court's decision in Ravin. The state appealed, and last Thursday, the state Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case.

Former Assistant Attorney General Dean Guaneli came out of retirement to reprise his old role as lead man in the Alaska law enforcement establishment's effort to undo the Ravin decision. It's not your father's marijuana, he argued, saying that it is far more potent than before, that pregnant women in Alaska are more prone to using marijuana than elsewhere in the country, and that 10% of users become dependent on the drug. All of this, he argued, is sufficient for the state high court to revisit and reverse its decision in Ravin.

The ACLU, representing itself and two anonymous plaintiffs, however, argued that the court should not bow to politically motivated findings that were tailor-made for the case. The court "needs to look with extreme skepticism at the legislature's findings" before overturning decades of decisions protecting Alaskan's rights to privacy, said ACLU attorney Jason Brandeis during the hearing.

The court will not issue a decision on the case for six months to a year, but it was being watched with interest by observers across the country. Marijuana law reform proponents in particular are hoping that Alaska will continue to be in the vanguard.

"Alaska currently has the best marijuana laws in the country -- it's perfectly legal to possess small amounts in your home -- and it would be a terrible setback if this court were to reverse a decision in place for more than 30 years," said Keith Stroup, founder of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). "But so far, the courts there have held it is unconstitutional to attach penalties to the private use of marijuana."

"This is a very important case that deals with some fundamental legal principles," said Jason Brandeis, who argued the case along with Adam Wolf of the national ACLU's Drug Law Reform Project. "First, there is the matter of stare decisis, respect for precedent. What we are asking the court to do is respect the precedent of Ravin and continue to rule that absent a really good reason, the state can't invade the sanctity of the home and preclude adults from engaging in certain types of conduct," he said.

"The state says it has new evidence that marijuana is dangerous, and that justifies the state piercing the sanctity of the home, but our position is simply that they don't have the scientific evidence to support that claim," said Brandeis. "The question is whether adults using marijuana at home rises to a level of social harm that justifies abrogating their privacy rights. We don't think so."

While the Alaska ruling will be important as an example to the rest of the country, said Stroup, it will also have a practical impact. "One reason this case is so important is that so long as it is legal to have small amounts at home, even if the police smell marijuana, that's not probable cause for arrest or a search warrant," he pointed out. "That's important."

For Ravin to be overturned, said Brandeis, the court would have to find a "close and substantial" relationship between preventing an adult from smoking marijuana at home and the state's interest in protecting the public health and safety. A ruling like that would be "a big step backwards," he said. "It would be a big blow to our privacy rights, and we take our privacy very seriously up here."

Brandeis refused to predict the outcome of the case, but sounded confident. "It's pretty clear the court knows what the issues are," he said. "There were a lot of questions about what level of deference the court should give the legislative findings, and I think we presented strong arguments that the court should not defer in this situation."

Stroup was not quite as cautious. Despite what he described as Gov. Murkowski's "reefer madness" and the legislative findings it inspired, Stroup pronounced himself confident that Ravin will be upheld. "I don't think we'll lose this," he said. "I have no reason to believe the Alaska Supreme Court will do anything differently than it did in Ravin."

No Evidence Needed? War on Salvia Divinorum Heating Up -- YouTube Videos Play Role

Nearly a year ago, we reported on mounting efforts to ban salvia divinorum in states and localities around the country. Since then, the war on the hallucinogenic plant has only intensified, despite the lack of any evidence that its use is widespread or that it has any harmful physical effects on its users.

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salvia leaves (courtesy erowid.org)
Salvia is a member of the mint family from Mexico, where it has been used by Mazatec curanderos (medicine men) for centuries. Within the past decade, awareness of its powerful hallucinogenic properties has begun to seep into the popular consciousness. Now, it is widely available at head shops and via the Internet, where it can be purchased in a smokeable form that produces almost instantaneous intoxication and a freight train of a trip lasting a handful of minutes.

Fueled largely by the appearance of salvia-intoxicated youths on YouTube (there were some 3,500 such videos at last count), law enforcement's reflexive desire to prohibit any mind-altering substances, and legislators' wishes to "do something" about youth drug use, efforts to ban the plant are spreading. While some states have stopped at limiting salvia's use to adults, most recently Maine, more have banned it outright. Legislative measures affecting salvia have been filed in 16 more states too, as well as a number of towns and cities.

In 2005, Louisiana became the first state to ban salvia, making it a proscribed Schedule I controlled substance. Since then, Delaware, Michigan, Missouri, North Dakota, and Tennessee have joined the list. (Tennessee bans ingestion -- it's a Class A misdemeanor -- but not possession. All the others excepting North Dakota have placed it in Schedule I.) In Oklahoma, only concentrated salvia is banned. Salvia is also a controlled substance in Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Italy, Spain and Sweden.

The press has also played a role in stoking fears of salvia and misstating its popularity. "Salvia: The Next Marijuana?," asked the Associated Press in a widely-reprinted story earlier this month.

Chris Bennett, proprietor of Urban Shaman Ethnobotanicals in downtown Vancouver, just laughed at the "salvia is the next marijuana" meme. "Anyone who says that is demonstrating their complete lack of knowledge of either salvia or marijuana," he said. "There is just no comparison. Cannabis is a mild relaxant and euphoric, while salvia is a very fast-acting visionary substance where some people report out of body experiences."

Researchers say that while salvia's effects on consciousness may be disquieting, the plant has not been shown to be toxic to humans, its effects are so potent is unlikely to be used repeatedly, and its active property, salvinorin A, could assist in the development of medicines for mood disorders. While action at the state level would unlikely affect research, a move by the DEA to put it on the controlled substances list could.

There are hazards to messing with hallucinogens, one expert was quick to point out. "It's an hallucinogen, and while its hallucinogenic actions are different from those induced by LSD and other hallucinogens, it has the liabilities that hallucinogens do," said Bryan Roth, a professor of pharmacology at University of North Carolina's School of Medicine, the man who isolated salvinorin A. "When people take it, they are disoriented. If you don't know where you are and you're driving a car, that would be a bad experience."

Still, said Roth, while it may make you freak out, it isn't going to kill you. "There is no evidence of any overt toxicity, there are no reports in the medical literature that anyone has died from it. The caveat is that there have been no formal studies done on humans, but the animal data suggests that it doesn't kill animals given massive doses, and that's usually -- but not always -- predictive for human pharmacology."

The DEA has been evaluating salvia for several years now, but there is no sign that it is ready to take action. "Salvia is a drug we are currently looking at to see if it should or should not be scheduled," said Rogene Waite, a spokesperson for the DEA, which is tasked with evaluating potential drug "threats." The agency has initiated the process of evaluating the eight factors listed in the Controlled Substances Act in determining whether or not to schedule a drug, she said. "There is no time frame or limit on this process," she said, providing no further hint on when or if ever the DEA would move to add salvia onto the federal list of controlled substances.

But legislators across the land are not waiting for the DEA. In California, Assemblyman Anthony Adams (R-Hesperia) introduced a bill that would ban salvia for minors at the urging of the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department, he told the Riverside Press-Enquirer. "If you have the opportunity to get in front of an emerging drug, I think, geez, you should do that," said Adams, whose district includes San Bernardino and Redlands.

On the other side of the country, Massachusetts state Rep. Vinny deMacedo (R-Plymouth) is cosponsoring legislation that would criminalize salvia possession. "I believe by not making this drug illegal we are sending a message to our youth that it is okay, and there is no way that a drug that causes such mind altering effects on an individual should be considered legal," deMacedo told the Plymouth News.

Again, legislators took action after being alerted by law enforcement. DeMacedo said he agreed to sponsor the bill after hearing from Plymouth County Sheriff Joseph MacDonald. "I'd never heard of it before," deMacedo said. "It creates this psychedelic-type, mind-altering high, similar to LSD. I thought, 'You've got to be kidding. Something like this is legal?'"

In Florida, Rep. Mary Brandenburg wants to save the kids by sending anyone possessing salvia to prison for up to five years. "As soon as we make one drug illegal, kids start looking around for other drugs they can buy legally. This is just the next one," she explained.

While legislators attempt to stay ahead of the curve by banning any new, potentially mind-altering substances at the drop of hat, their efforts are misdirected, said Urban Shaman's Bennett. The YouTube kids may be the public face of salvia, but they are only a minority of users, he said. "It's all ages," he said, adding that his store does not sell to people under 18. "Every time there is some media attention, I get a bunch of middle-aged people coming in and asking for it."

Salvia is not a party drug, said Bennett. "The most serious users are people seeking a classic shamanic experience, seeking a visionary experience as part of their spiritual path. They feel they're accessing a higher level of consciousness," he explained. "And even they don't seem to use it more than once a month or so."

For all the commotion surrounding salvia, there is very little evidence of actual harm to anyone, said Bennett. "You'll notice you don't hear anybody talking about organic damage to the human organism," he said. "This is all purely fear and loathing of people having a visionary experience."

What little data there is on salvia use and its effects tends to bear him out. There are no reported deaths from salvia use, with the exception of a Delaware teenager who committed suicide in 2006 at some point after using it. (That unfortunate young man is widely cited by the proponents of banning salvia, even though there is no concomitant wave of salvia-linked suicides. Also, he was reportedly taking an acne medication linked to depression and had been using alcohol.) Users are not showing up with any frequency in mental hospitals or hospital emergency rooms.

While the YouTube kids may present a problematic public face of salvia use, there's not much to be done about that, said Bennett. "You can't control that," he shrugged. "And so what? Some kids are having a powerful visionary experience for five minutes on YouTube. Why is that somehow more threatening than watching someone in the jungle take ayahuasca or something on National Geographic?"

Bennett, for one, has no use for a ban on salvia -- or any other plant, for that matter. "We have a fundamental natural right to have access to all plants, and I don't care if it's salvia or marijuana or poppy or coca. That's just as clear-cut as our right to air and water," he said.

But Bennett's perspective is not one widely shared by legislators in the US. Instead, they reflexively reach to prohibit that which they do not understand. And the very "kids" they claim to be saving will be the ones going to prison.

Drug Testing: Washington State Supreme Court Rejects Random Tests of Students

In a March 13 ruling, the Washington state Supreme Court has rejected the random, suspicionless drug testing of high school students. In so doing, the court threw out a Wahkiakum School District policy in effect since 1999 that forced would-be student athletes to participate in drug tests if they wished to participate in school sports. The state constitution offers protections to students that federal courts have failed to find in the Fourth Amendment, the court held.

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drug testing lab
The ruling came in York v. Wahkiakum, in which the parents of student athletes Aaron and Abraham York and Tristan Schneider sued the school district, arguing that the program violated the state constitution.

In particular, York and Schneider argued that the random suspicionless drug tests violated Article 1, Section 7 of the Washington State Constitution: "SECTION 7 INVASION OF PRIVATE AFFAIRS OR HOME PROHIBITED. No person shall be disturbed in his private affairs, or his home invaded, without authority of law."

As the Washington state Supreme Court noted, the US Supreme Court had held that requiring student athletes to submit to random drug tests is constitutional: "The United States Supreme Court has held such activity does not violate the Fourth Amendment to the federal constitution," wrote Justice Gerry Alexander for the majority. "But we have never decided whether a suspicionless, random drug search of student athletes violates article I, section 7 of our state constitution. Therefore, we must decide whether our state constitution follows the federal standard or provides more protection to students in the state of Washington."

It does indeed, the court held. "The school district asks us to adopt a 'special needs' exception to the warrant requirement to allow random and suspicionless drug testing," wrote Justice Gerry Alexander in the majority opinion. "But we do not recognize such an exception and hold warrantless random and suspicionless drug testing of student athletes violates the Washington State Constitution."

It will be back to the drawing board for school districts in Washington that currently have random drug test policies, thanks to the state Supreme Court.

Law Enforcement: Ohio SWAT Officer Who Killed Young Mother in Drug Raid Gets Charged With Misdemeanors, Faces Eight Months at Most

Back in January, Sgt. Joseph Chavalia, a member of the Lima, Ohio, SWAT team shot and killed Tarika Wilson, 26, and shot and maimed her infant son, Sincere Wilson, as she held him in her arms as he and other SWAT team members executed a drug search warrant at the home Wilson shared with her boyfriend. The boyfriend was the object of the raid.

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graphic appearing on Lima SWAT team web site, removed after shooting
Police have presented no evidence that Wilson acted in a threatening manner as the SWAT team burst into her home.

On Monday, prosecutors charged Chavalia with two misdemeanors -- negligent homicide in the death of Wilson and negligent assault in the wounding of her child -- that could see him spend a maximum of eight months in prison if convicted on both counts. Wilson's relatives and activists, many of whom allege a pattern of discriminatory policing by the Lima police, were outraged.

The shooting itself touched off heated city council meetings and protest marches. Many citizens and civil rights leaders, including national figures like the Rev. Jesse Jackson, had called for police and local elected officials to be held accountable. Those calls grew louder after Chavalia's charges were announced.

"Any time a man shoots through a baby and kills an unarmed woman, and is charged with two misdemeanors, I think it would be an understatement to say that that's unacceptable," said Jason Upthegrove, Lima NAACP president, in an interview with the Associated Press.

Upthegrove said the charges should have been more serious. He added that the Lima NAACP will ask the FBI and the Justice Department to investigate whether the case has been handled fairly.

"No one's above the law, even if he serves it," said Ivory Austin II, brother of Tarika Wilson. "Don't separate the police from the people. We are all equal in the society. Treat the police like you would treat the common man," he told the AP.

Lima Police Chief Greg Garlock said there was continued sadness over the shooting. "It's a sad day for us that one of our officers was indicted," Garlock said.

States Shifting to "Four Pillars" Approach, Instead of Mass Arrests and Scare Tactics, for Confronting Methamphetamine

Although the use of methamphetamine has remained fairly flat throughout this decade -- contrary to popular belief -- and its half-million semi-regular users are far fewer than regular users or heroin or cocaine, meth has been the demon drug du jour for the new millenium. The "meth epidemic" has aroused concerted law enforcement and propaganda efforts at the state and local levels, and belatedly aroused the attention of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), which turned away from its obsession with marijuana long enough to include a few anti-meth segments in its National Youth Anti-Drug Campaign.

But while the states and federal government fill their prisons with tens of thousands of meth offenders and crank out ever more draconian laws to try to suppress the popular stimulant, public health officials, harm reductionists, and drug reform activists say there is a better way. Instead of relying on punitive laws, scare tactics, and failed federal leadership in confronting methamphetamine abuse, states and the federal government would be better off adopting more enlightened alternative approaches.

Current, law enforcement-heavy approaches to meth are ineffective and counterproductive, said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance as he introduced a new report he authored, "A Four-Pillars Approach to Methamphetamine: Policies for Effective Drug Prevention, Treatment, Policing and Harm Reduction." "Meth is not a new drug," Piper told the Tuesday teleconference. "Its use has fluctuated for the past 40 years and has been relatively stable since 1999. But it has become more available, more potent, and more addictive over time, and federal policies have failed to reduce most of the problems associated with meth use."

Even when law enforcement can legitimately claim successes, as in the massive reduction in the number of home meth labs, it only breeds new problems, said Piper. "The law of unintended consequences brought us the increasing power of the Mexican meth cartels."

There is a better way, and that is to adopt the Four Pillars approach, Piper argued in the report. That approach, already in use in places like Geneva, Zurich, Frankfurt, Sydney, and most famously, Vancouver, "has resulted in a dramatic reduction in the number of users consuming drugs on the street, a significant drop in overdose deaths, and a reduction in the infection rates for HIV/AIDS and hepatitis," he said.

A Four Pillars approach to meth should include the following steps, the report said:

  • Eliminate barriers to successful meth treatment, such as the shortage of treatment programs for pregnant and parenting women;
  • Divert nonviolent methamphetamine offenders to treatment instead of jail;
  • Invest in research to develop the equivalent of methadone and buprenorphine for the treatment of methamphetamine abuse, and allow doctors to prescribe dextroamphetmaine, modafinil, Ritalin and other medications to treat stimulant addiction as part of counseling and drug treatment;
  • Eliminate failed, scare-based prevention programs like DARE and the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, and increase funding for after-school programs instead;
  • Re-prioritize local and federal law enforcement agencies to focus on violent criminals instead of nonviolent drug offenders, and set clear statutory goals and reporting requirements for the disruption of major methamphetamine operations; and
  • Make sterile syringes widely available to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C.

While New Mexico is the only state that has formally embraced a Four Pillars strategy including harm reduction as part of its approach to meth -- a program in which DPA played a key and continuing role -- promising developments are afoot in other places as well, including California and Utah.

In California, Proposition 36, the Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act, in effect since 2001, is making a significant contribution in drying up the flow of new drug prisoners into the state's swollen and budget-devouring prisons. Under Prop. 36, about 35,000 people a year have been diverted from prison to drug treatment through the criminal justice system, with slightly more than half of them reporting meth as their primary drug of abuse. With nearly 19,000 meth users a year entering treatment under Prop 36, the program is the largest meth treatment and prevention program in the nation.

"We are not only reducing the number of people locked up, but we have saved about $1.5 billion in the past seven years, with recidivism dropping and no negative impact on crime rates," said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, Proposition 36 coordinator for DPA. "We can get treatment to people who need it with cost savings and a positive outcome."

Lou Martinez was one of those people. A chronic California meth user for a decade, he was arrested numerous times for possession of drugs or paraphernalia. "I was constantly getting picked up throughout the '90s, I could never comply with the probation conditions, I was in and out of jail all the time," he said.

Things changed after Prop. 36, Martinez said. "I got picked up again in 2002, but this time I was referred to Prop. 36 and was able to detox and get health and psych screenings. I spent 90 days in a transitional house, and when I graduated in 2004, for the first time in my adult life I wasn't under the control of the courts. Without Prop. 36, there is no way I could have broken that cycle of arrests and trying unsuccessfully to quit."

Martinez returned to college, got a bachelor's degree, and now works directly with Prop. 36 clients. "It saved my life," he said of the program.

In Utah, the Drug Offenders Rehabilitation Act (DORA), which provides substance abuse screening for anyone convicted of a felony is now taking an innovative Salt Lake County program statewide, while across the Four Corners in New Mexico, policymakers, state agencies and other stakeholders have developed a comprehensive meth strategy bringing together all four of the Four Pillars.

Harm reduction is a key element, said Reena Szczepanski, director of DPA New Mexico, and a key player in developing the New Mexico strategy. "What are we going to do for people before they are ready to go into treatment?" she said. "What other problems and conditions do they have? Since 1997, we've had a statewide system of needle exchanges, where drug users can get health education, access to testing, information on how to respond to overdoses. This is harm reduction. Before someone is ready to go into treatment, they are already engaging a system of services that will be there when they are ready," she said.

Methamphetamine may be over-hyped as a national drug problem, but it is a locus of concern among policymakers, health care professionals, law enforcement, and society at large. With meth such a high profile drug policy issue, the battles over how to approach it may set the tone for drug policy discussions for years to come. With its report calling for a Four Pillars approach, the Drug Policy Alliance is taking up the challenge.

Marijuana: New Hampshire House Passes Decriminalization Bill

In a vote that caught most observers by surprise, the New Hampshire House of Representatives approved a scaled-back marijuana decriminalization bill by a margin of 193-141. To become law, the measure must still pass the state Senate, where it will receive a cool reception, and be signed by the governor, who has signaled his opposition to it.

Sponsored by Reps. Jeffrey Fontas (D-Nashua) and Andrew Edwards (D-Nashua), the bill, HB 1623, would make possession of up to a quarter ounce of marijuana a violation punishable by a maximum $200 fine. Currently, small-time possession is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine.

The favorable vote came despite the bill's rejection by a House policy committee and the opposition of law enforcement officials. Among arguments raised by proponents was that young offenders would be unfairly punished by having a marijuana offense on their records.

"How can we expect young people to get back on the right path if we take away every opportunity to do so?" Rep. Fontas said during the debate.

That sentiment was echoed on the Republican side of the aisle, too. "The question today is not whether marijuana should be illegal, but whether a teenager making a stupid decision should face up to a year in prison and loss of all federal funding for college,'' said Rep. Jason Bedrick (R-Windham).

Rep. John Tholl (R-Whitefield), a part-time police chief in the village of Dalton, was typical of opponents. He warned darkly that anyone sharing small amounts of marijuana could be charged with a felony and that anyone transporting it could still face jail time. Still, the measure would send the wrong message, he said.

"If you send a message to the young people of our state that a quarter ounce of marijuana is no big deal, like a traffic ticket, what you are doing is you are telling them we are not going to be looking at this very hard,'' Tholl said.

According to the Nashua Telegraph, Gov. John Lynch also thinks the bill sends the wrong message. His press secretary, Colin Manning, said Lynch will urge the Senate to reject it.

"This sends absolutely the wrong message to New Hampshire's young people about the very real dangers of drug use. That is why the governor joins with the House Criminal Justice Committee and law enforcement in opposing this bill,'' Manning said. "If the bill were to reach the governor's desk, which seems very unlikely, the governor would veto it.''

Senate Majority Leader Joseph Foster (D-Nashua) told the newspaper the bill is going nowhere in his chamber. "I know of no interest in the Senate on either side of the aisle to entertain this,'' Foster told reporters. "The governor has expressed his view, but I don't think he will see it coming to him.''

The New Hampshire Coalition for Common Sense Marijuana Policy, which has led the lobbying charge for the bill, praised the House and urged the Senate to act. "Our representatives in the House did the right thing for New Hampshire -- and especially for New Hampshire's young people," said the coalition's Matt Simon. "It's time for the Senate to finish the work we've started here and bring some sanity to our marijuana sentencing policies."

Eleven states have decriminalized marijuana possession, mostly in the 1970s. Nevada was the most recent, decriminalizing in 2001.

N.H. House OKs marijuana bill

Location: 
Concord, NH
United States
Publication/Source: 
Nashua Telegraph (NH)
URL: 
http://www.nashuatelegraph.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080319/NEWS02/317402274/-1/OPINION01

Sacramento supervisors reject state's medical marijuana ID program

Location: 
Sacramento, CA
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Sacramento Bee (CA)
URL: 
http://www.sacbee.com/101/story/796247.html

Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Testify TODAY at Taxpayers' Hearing in Sacramento

[Courtesy of ASA] For Immediate Release: March 18, 2008 Contact: ASA Media Liaison Kris Hermes (510) 681-6361 or, in Sacramento, ASA California Director Don Duncan (323) 326-6347 Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Testify Today at Taxpayers' Hearing in Sacramento Patients and their providers pay more than $100 million in sales tax annually Sacramento, CA -- More than a half-dozen medical marijuana dispensary operators from across the state will testify today at 1:30pm before the State Board of Equalization (BOE) at its Taxpayers' Bill of Rights Hearing. Dispensary operators from southern and northern California, joined by medical marijuana advocates, will be in Sacramento to discuss their significant contribution of $100 million in annual sales tax revenue to an ailing state budget. While sales tax on medical marijuana clearly benefits the fiscal health of the state, that funding is threatened by increased interference from the federal government. What: Medical marijuana dispensary operators and advocates testify at the Board of Equalization's Taxpayers' Bill of Rights Hearing When: Tuesday, March 18, 2008 at 1:30pm Where: Hearing Room 121 at the BOE, 450 N Street in Sacramento Why: Medical marijuana annual sales tax revenue of $100 million is threatened by continued federal interference Who: Testimony will be heard from dispensary operators in Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Francisco, Berkeley, Santa Rosa, and Santa Cruz "Medical marijuana dispensaries are doing their best to comply with state law," said Kris Hermes, spokesperson for Americans for Safe Access (ASA), one of the advocacy groups testifying today. "One hundred million dollars annually in sales tax revenue is not small change," continued Hermes. "However, by continuing to shut these facilities down, the federal government deprives the state of this money at a time of fiscal crisis." According to recent estimations by multiple advocacy groups, California's hundreds of medical marijuana dispensaries contribute to the state budget at least $100 million annually in sales tax revenue. The State of California began collecting sales tax revenue from medical marijuana dispensaries in October 2005, after a policy decision that year by the BOE. However, the same facilities that are expected to comply with this policy are currently under attack by the federal government. Enforcement tactics by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) have had a devastating impact on dispensaries in California. In 2007 alone, the DEA raided more than 50 medical marijuana dispensaries in at least 10 different counties across the state. Also, in 2007, the DEA launched a new tactic in its attempts to undermine state law by disseminating more than 300 letters to landlords of dispensaries, threatening the property owners with criminal prosecution and asset seizure if they continued to lease to dispensaries. "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." The federal government's efforts to undermine California's medical marijuana law have not gone unnoticed by local and state lawmakers. Letters from concerned local officials in 2007 prompted U.S. House Judiciary Chair John Conyers to issue a statement in December expressing his deep concern and calling for DEA oversight hearings. Since then, Mayors from Oakland and Santa Cruz, as well as the Berkeley City Council and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, have all registered their opposition to federal enforcement against medical marijuana. In addition, State Senator Carole Migden (D-San Francisco) introduced SJR 20 earlier this year, calling for an end to federal interference and urging Congress and the President to establish policy consistent with the compassionate use laws of California. Most recently, in February, former BOE Chair Betty Yee co-authored an opinion piece with Senator Migden harshly criticizing DEA tactics in California, emphasizing the harm to both patients and the state. Further information: ASA Fact Sheet on Sales Tax: http://americansforsafeaccess.org/downloads/sales_tax_fact_sheet.pdf Copy of State Senate Joint Resolution 20, calling for an end to DEA interference: http://americansforsafeaccess.org/downloads/SJR_20.pdf BOE notice sent to dispensaries in 2007 alerting them to the new sales tax policy: http://www.boe.ca.gov/news/pdf/medseller2007.pdf Opinion piece by Betty Yee & Carole Migden: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/02/15/ED0UV1RNP.DTL
Location: 
Sacramento, CA
United States

Press Release: Medical Marijuana Dispensaries to Testify at Taxpayers' Hearing in Sacramento

[Courtesy of Americans for Safe Access] For Immediate Release: March 17, 2008 Contact: ASA Media Liaison Kris Hermes (510) 681-6361 or, in Sacramento, ASA California Director Don Duncan (323) 326-6347 Medical Marijuana Dispensaries to Testify at Taxpayers' Hearing in Sacramento Patients and their providers pay more than $100 million in sales tax annually Sacramento, CA -- More than a half-dozen medical marijuana dispensary operators from across the state are expected to testify tomorrow at 1:30pm before the State Board of Equalization (BOE) at its Taxpayers' Bill of Rights Hearing. Dispensary operators from southern and northern California, joined by medical marijuana advocates, will be in Sacramento to discuss the significant contribution of $100 million in annual sales tax revenue to an ailing state budget. While sales tax on medical marijuana clearly benefits the fiscal health of the state, that funding is threatened by increased interference from the federal government. What: Medical marijuana dispensary operators and advocates testify at the Board of Equalization's Taxpayers' Bill of Rights Hearing When: Tuesday, March 18, 2008 at 1:30pm Where: Hearing Room 121 at the BOE, 450 N Street in Sacramento Why: Medical marijuana annual sales tax revenue of $100 million is threatened by continued federal interference Who: Testimony will be heard from dispensary operators in Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Francisco, Berkeley, Santa Rosa, and Santa Cruz "Medical marijuana dispensaries are doing their best to comply with state law," said Kris Hermes, spokesperson for Americans for Safe Access (ASA), one of the advocacy groups testifying tomorrow. "One hundred million dollars annually in sales tax revenue is not small change," continued Hermes. "However, by continuing to shut these facilities down, the federal government deprives the state of this money at a time of fiscal crisis." According to recent estimations by multiple advocacy groups, California's hundreds of medical marijuana dispensaries contribute to the state budget at least $100 million annually in sales tax revenue. The State of California began collecting sales tax revenue from medical marijuana dispensaries in October 2005, after a policy decision that year by the BOE. However, the same facilities that are expected to comply with this policy are currently under attack by the federal government. Enforcement tactics by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) have had a devastating impact on dispensaries in California. In 2007 alone, the DEA raided more than 50 medical marijuana dispensaries in at least 10 different counties across the state. Also, in 2007, the DEA launched a new tactic in its attempts to undermine state law by disseminating more than 300 letters to landlords of dispensaries, threatening the property owners with criminal prosecution and asset seizure if they continued to lease to dispensaries. "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." The federal government's efforts to undermine California's medical marijuana law have not gone unnoticed by local and state lawmakers. Letters from concerned local officials in 2007 prompted U.S. House Judiciary Chair John Conyers to issue a statement in December expressing his deep concern and calling for DEA oversight hearings. Since then, Mayors from Oakland and Santa Cruz, as well as the Berkeley City Council and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, have all registered their opposition to federal enforcement against medical marijuana. In addition, State Senator Carole Migden (D-San Francisco) introduced SJR 20 earlier this year, calling for an end to federal interference and urging Congress and the President to establish policy consistent with the compassionate use laws of California. Most recently, in February, former BOE Chair Betty Yee co-authored an opinion piece with Senator Migden harshly criticizing DEA tactics in California, emphasizing the harm to both patients and the state. Further information: ASA Fact Sheet on Sales Tax: http://americansforsafeaccess.org/downloads/sales_tax_fact_sheet.pdf Copy of State Senate Joint Resolution 20, calling for an end to DEA interference: http://americansforsafeaccess.org/downloads/SJR_20.pdf BOE notice sent to dispensaries in 2007 alerting them to the new sales tax policy: http://www.boe.ca.gov/news/pdf/medseller2007.pdf Opinion piece by Betty Yee & Carole Migden: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/02/15/ED0UV1RNP.DTL
Location: 
Sacramento, CA
United States

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