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Medical Marijuana: DEA, ONDCP Take Flak on Dispensary Raids, Research Obstacles in House Committee Hearing

A House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security hearing on July 12 saw representatives of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) grilled by Democratic congressmen, including committee chair Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), on the administration's attacks on medical marijuana in states where it is legal and on the administration's stalling the request of University of Massachusetts researcher to be able to grow medical marijuana for research purposes.

(The same hearing also saw pain patient advocates get a chance to tell the committee about the DEA's prosecutions of pain doctors -- see feature story here -- and written testimony from an ONDCP official claiming a leading medical marijuana advocate no longer supported medical marijuana -- see newsbrief here).

Testifying before the committee on medical marijuana issues were the DEA's Joseph Rannizzisi, ONDCP chief scientist Dr. David Murray, and Valerie Corral, cofounder of the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM), a California dispensary raided by the DEA in 2002.

Murray was in typical form, telling the committee "it is not the medical community who identifies a need out there for a smoked weed to alleviate pain and suffering." Instead, Murray said, "this is an issue that is pushed overwhelmingly by legalization advocates for marijuana who fund initiatives and referenda in various states, trying to push through what we think is a troubling development." In his written testimony to the committee, Murray called medical marijuana advocates "modern-day snake oil proponents."

Murray went on to charge that marijuana has not been found to be effective as a medicine, that there is better stuff available, and that the weed could even be "harmful for those for whom it was intended to be a healing device."

That prompted Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) to interrupt Murray's testimony to ask if he thought marijuana were as dangerous as nicotine, which in turn prompted Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA) to denounce Nadler for talking out of turn. After a brief procedural scuffle, Murray adeptly deflected Nadler's pointed question.

WAMM's Corral was up next, telling the committee about how WAMM began as a small collective garden to serve its members -- people who benefited from marijuana as medicine -- and that those people were not lying. "It is not that we wish to break the law, for surely we do not," she said. "We've made every effort to change it. What we ask here today is that you stop the aggressive antics of the DEA against sick and dying people, because that is what we are. Stop the raids. Allow research to continue. Allow the research to continue that the DEA is blocking in the [University of Massachusetts researcher Lyle] Craker case, for instance, because only you can do that."

Committee chair Bobby Scott turned up the heat during later questioning of the witnesses. "I'd like to ask, I guess, Dr. Murray, in terms of policy, what the public policy imperative it is to deny terminally ill patients the right to marijuana, if they believe that it's going to help them, they believe that it reduces pain, terminally ill patients?"

Unsatisified with Murray's response, which basically reprised his earlier testimony, Scott continued to dog him: "Well, if they want it and they're terminally ill, what scientific studies have you had to show the effectiveness of marijuana? What scientific studies have you had? Do you have a list that you can supply to the committee?"

After going around with an evasive Murray, Scott settled for a promise from the ONDCP functionary to respond with written testimony.

Nor was the chairman pleased with Murray's non-response to his question about the problems UMass professor Lyle Craker was having getting his request to grow marijuana for research purposes approved. Rep. Nadler also jumped on Murray about obstacles facing medical marijuana researchers.

"Marijuana is the only controlled substance currently for which the federal government maintains a monopoly on the supply for use by scientists conducting research, even though federal law requires competition in the production of research-grade, schedule-one substances, such as research-grade heroin, LSD, ecstasy and cocaine," Nadler said. "Can you please tell us marijuana, as a comparatively harmless drug, compared to these other substances, is the only controlled substance for which the federal government maintains a monopoly on the supply made available to researchers? In other words, why is it different than heroin, ecstasy, LSD, et cetera?"

Murray had no substantive response to Nadler's question, a posture the congressman qualified as "evasive," and DEA's Rannazzisi fared little better. "They've refused the supply for basically every researcher. They've basically cut off medical research with respect to marijuana," Nadler pushed.

"I don't believe that's the case," Ranazzisi responded. "If you look at my testimony..."

"I won't debate that with you because it's clearly the case," an annoyed Nadler retorted.

Nadler went on to pepper Ranazzisi about when the DEA is going to get around to moving on the Craker application, without getting a straight answer.

With Democrats in control of the Congress, some of the right questions are finally being asked of the drug war bureaucrats. We may not like the answers we are hearing, but at least the questions are being asked and the drug warriors are on notice.

Medical Marijuana: ONDCP Claims Steve Kubby Has Changed His Mind, Kubby Says No Way!

The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) used testimony submitted to Congress last week to misrepresent the position of Steve Kubby, a leading California medical marijuana advocate. Kubby acted this week to denounce the deception and clarify his continuing support for medical marijuana.
Steve Kubby
In written testimony before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security, Dr. David Murray, ONDCP's Chief Scientist called medical marijuana advocates "modern-day snake oil proponents," sneered at medicines that make patients "feel good," and claimed that laws okaying medical marijuana in a dozen states have led to "abuse, confusion, and crime." Then, to further buttress his argument against the therapeutic use of the herb, he added:

"Founding proponents of medical marijuana in the United States have reversed their key positions of support for medical marijuana. Rev. Scott Imler, Co-founder of Prop 215, has lamented the passage of California's medical marijuana law stating that, 'We created Prop. 215 so that patients would not have to deal with black market profiteers. But today it is all about the money. Most of the dispensaries operating in California are little more than dope dealers with store fronts.' Imler also said that medical marijuana has 'turned into a joke.' Steve Kubby, another Co-founder of medical marijuana in California stated in a letter to supporters on April 14th, 2006 that 'Marinol is an acceptable, if not ideal, substitute for whole cannabis in treating my otherwise fatal disease.' (Alternatives magazine, Fall, 2006 Issue 39, San Gabriel Valley Tribune 2/07, Message from Steve Kubby, Steve Kubby Released After Serving 62 Days in Jail, April 14th, 2006)"

Imler, a founder of the Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Center, which was raided and shut down by the DEA in 2001, has not taken exception to Murray's portrayal of his position -- after all, Murray accurately transcribed his words from the year-old magazine article. But Kubby, who was forced to resort to Marinol while jailed for two months in California, certainly took umbrage.

"My comments about Marinol were based upon my relief that I did not die in jail," he wrote in an email to supporters. "My comment was intended to acknowledge that I did get good blood pressure control with the Marinol and that finding certainly deserves further study. On the other hand, I lost 33 pounds in 62 days while on Marinol, so perhaps I should have used stronger language than 'less than ideal.'"

Kubby suffered from almost constant nausea while on Marinol, he wrote, adding that Murray took his sentence about Marinol out of context. The paragraph from which it was extracted reads as follows: "During that time I experienced excruciating pain, a vicious high blood-pressure crisis, passed blood in my urine and I lost 33 pounds. However, there was also good news. I learned that Marinol is an acceptable, if not ideal, substitute for whole cannabis in treating my otherwise fatal disease. Now I am a free man and I am profoundly grateful to be alive and to have friends and supporters such as you."

While conceding that Marinol can be effective for treatment of hypertension and would allow him to travel briefly without medical marijuana, it does not allow him to have an acceptable quality of life, Kubby said.

"Please help me squash this deceptive and dangerous misrepresentation of my true feeling on this matter by the ONDCP," Kubby wrote. "It just shows how desperate they are that they must mislead people in this way. And just so there is no question about this, let me be clear: Whole cannabis is not only the best medicine for me, it is the only medicine that has kept me alive during the 32 years that I have continued to live, in relatively good heath, despite a terminal diagnosis of malignant pheochromocytoma."

With Murray and ONDCP, it's sort of like that old country song title: "Who Are You Going to Believe -- Me or Your Lying Eyes?"

Drug Policy Alliance Press Release: Hillary Clinton Vows to End Federal Raids on Medical Marijuana Patients

For Immediate Release: July 19, 2007 Contact: Bill Piper at (202) 669-6430 or Tony Newman at (646) 335-5384 Sen. Hilary Rodham Clinton Vows to End Federal Raids on Medical Marijuana Patients Remarks Come on Eve of Vote in House of Representatives to Stop Bush Administration’s Heartless Raids During a presidential campaign stop in New Hampshire last Friday, Sen. Hilary Rodham Clinton pledged to end federal raids on medical marijuana patients. The pledge came in response to a question posed by Len Epstein, a volunteer for Granite Staters for Medical Marijuana (GSMM). After telling Clinton, "Twelve states allow medical marijuana, but the Bush administration continues to raid patients," she responded, "Yes, I know. It's terrible." Epstein then asked, "Would you stop the federal raids?" Clinton responded, "Yes, I will." Her remarks echo remarks she made in May in which she suggested the federal government was being “excessive” in its dealing with medical marijuana patients. Twelve states, (Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington) have adopted effective medical marijuana laws since 1996 - most of them by a vote of the people. Dozens of other states have adopted largely symbolic medical marijuana laws. The Drug Enforcement Administration, however, continues to arrest medical marijuana patients and their caregivers in those states. “Sen. Clinton has shown real leadership by pledging to stop federal medical marijuana raids,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “I hope her colleagues in the House follow her lead and vote to prohibit the Justice Department from arresting medical marijuana patients and their caregivers in those states where marijuana is legal for medical use.” Next week, the House of Representatives will vote on an amendment that would prohibit the Justice Department from undermining state medical marijuana laws. Last year, 163 representatives (75 percent of Democrats; 18 percent of Republicans) voted for a similar amendment. In addition to Clinton's remarks, every other Democratic presidential candidate has vowed to end federal medical marijuana raids - except for Sen. Barak Obama who indicated in June that the raids shouldn't be a priority for the Justice Department, but stopped short of pledging to end the raids completely if elected president. Earlier this year Gov. Bill Richardson became the first U.S. presidential candidate in history to sign legislation legalizing marijuana for medical use. On the Republican side, only Rep. Ron Paul, Rep. Tom Tancredo, and former Gov. Tommy Thompson have indicated they would end the federal medical marijuana raids.
United States

Willie Nelson to do benefit for MPP

Join Willie Nelson and the Marijuana Policy Project at a concert to raise money for marijuana policy reform! What: Austin Freedom Fest, featuring Willie Nelson and Asleep at the Wheel Where: The Backyard in Austin, Texas When: August 10 You can buy regular tickets here ( — but you might consider buying a VIP ticket. VIP tickets include dinner, open bar, seating in the exclusive tree deck, and the opportunity to network with special celebrity guests. But only 20 VIP tickets are available, so act fast if you want one. The concert will star legendary country singer Willie Nelson and the Grammy award-winning band Asleep at the Wheel — featuring MPP VIP advisory board member Ray Benson. Other special guests include Paula Nelson, Carolyn Wonderland, Jackie “The Joke Man” Martling, and Mark Stepnoski. Proceeds from the benefit will go to MPP, NORML, and WAMM. Earlier this week, the Austin-American Statesman reported that Nelson has cancelled many of his tour dates through August — except for MPP's and the annual Farm Aid concert. So if you want to see Willie Nelson in concert this summer, MPP’s event might be your only chance.
Austin, TX
United States

Clinton Promises to End Federal Raids on Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

Hillary Clinton continues to get the drug policy questions right:
During a visit to Manchester, New Hampshire on July 13, Len Epstein of Granite Staters for Medical Marijuana told the senator and presidential candidate: "Twelve states allow medical marijuana, but the Bush administrations continues to raid patients."

Clinton replied: "Yes, I know. It's terrible."

"Would you stop the federal raids?" Epstein asked.

"Yes, I will," she responded firmly. [MPP]
As I've said before, it's exciting to hear the democratic front-runner taking the right positions on our issues. Clinton has now pledged to fight racial profiling, reform the crack/powder sentencing disparity, promote treatment instead of incarceration, and now vows to end the federal war on medical marijuana patients and providers. That's a rock solid drug policy platform for a mainstream candidate.

Yes, I know there are long-shot candidates willing to go further (what's his name, Ron something?). But the willingness of front-runners – on the left, at least – to take common sense positions on drug policy reflects a growing awareness that reform is not political suicide.

Heck, given massive public support for medical marijuana, and Giuliani and McCain's refusal to defend patients, Democrats would be foolish not to step forward on this.

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


United States

CA NORML Release: DEA Announces Federal Medical MJ Indictments in So. Cal - Business as Usual in DEAland?

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 17, 2007 The DEA announced several indictments of medical cannabis operators in Southern California today. There was less to them than meets the eye, however, as they involved outstanding cases against dispensaries that had been previously raided or warned. Indicted were operators of: (1) Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers in Morro Bay, which had been raided last March; (2) Compassionate Caregivers, once the largest chain of dispensaries in California, closed by federal action in 2005-6 (one former CC employee was also arrested for having opened a new facility); (3) Healing Nations Collective in Corona, which had been fighting efforts by local authorities to close it, and (in a raid yesterday) (4) Nature's Medicinal in Bakersfield, a popular, high-traffic facility that was raided in May. None of the arrestees had been targets of the LA DEA's recent landlord warning letter, nor were any forfeiture actions announced against landlords of the arrestees. One twist was that the charges named a doctor, who allegedly wrote recommendations for the Morro Bay store's patrons. Significantly, the doctor was said to have received a finders' fee for referrals, which would exempt him from the federal Conant injunction that protects doctors so long as they don't help patients procure cannabis illegally. Although the Morro Bay dispensary was alleged to have sold cannabis to minors, sources close to the case say all the minors were either over 18 or accompanied by parents. Although the Bakersfield dispensary was charged with making millions of dollars, DEA did not mention that it was paying payroll and sales taxes like other legal businesses. Today's announcements were obviously timed to "send a message" along with the landlord warning letters. That does not mean that the government is about to send forfeiture notices to all the landlords. To do so would invite more backlash than this bankrupt administration can afford. The DEA is picking off a few ripe targets in a desperate attempt to slow down the medical marijuana stampede. Every day brings more scientific evidence for the medical efficacy of cannabis. When the dust settles, the government will be forced to concede Americans' right to medicine. In the next week or two, Congress is expected to vote on the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment to halt federal funding for medical marijuana raids. TELL YOUR CONGRESS MEMBER TO END THE FEDERAL WAR ON MEDICAL MARIJUANA: - D. Gieringer, Cal NORML
United States

Showtime's "In Pot We Trust" is a Must-see

Wow, man. There's lots of heady nugs in this movie. Just pack your favorite bong, zap some popcorn, and get ready for the ride of your life.

Actually, no. In Pot We Trust doesn't make you want to smoke pot. It will make you want to give all your pot to Jacqueline Patterson. Jacqueline has celebral palsy, which manifests itself most notably in the form of a severe stutter. When she uses medical marijuana, Jacqueline can speak much more quickly and clearly, because the drug relieves her muscle tension. The difference is so obvious, I don’t know how anyone could watch this and say marijuana isn't medicine.

In Pot We Trust tells the story of four medical marijuana patients, against the backdrop of last year's Hinchey-Rohrabacher vote. The filmmakers follow MPP's Aaron Houston through the halls of Congress, then join the DEA as they uproot marijuana plants in the hills of California. Marijuana experts such as Lester Grinspoon provide insight into the drug's benefits, while prohibitionists Joe Califano and Robert Dupont explain why they've dedicated themselves to criminalizing sick people.

The film is invaluable because patients themselves make the best spokespeople for medical marijuana. The ulterior motives so often attributed to the medical marijuana legalization effort become irrelevant here, as we meet the actual people whose health and wellbeing lies at the center of this controversy.

I won't ruin the ending, but in case you haven’t heard, patients who rely on medical marijuana to maintain their quality of life are still criminals under federal law.

United States

Authorities allege medical marijuana stores profited from sales

Los Angeles, CA
United States
San Jose Mercury News (CA)

Rudy Giuliani's Position on OxyContin and Pain Management Is Correct

John Riley at Newsday has an interesting piece on Rudy Giuliani's role in helping Purdue Pharma preserve its image after the painkiller OxyContin was linked to widespread abuse. When Giuliani spoke out against medical marijuana, I repeatedly cited his work for Purdue Pharma as evidence of his hypocrisy. While I stand by that position, it should be noted that Giuliani's stance on pain management is actually quite good, in and of itself:
The OxyContin debate has been part of a larger fight in which patient advocacy groups that are worried about historic undertreatment of pain have joined with drug companies to argue against regulatory and law enforcement restrictions on painkillers that might unduly restrict their availability.

Giuliani was a key ally in that debate. He cast himself as an expert because of his prosecutorial background and his experience with prostate cancer. As part of his work for Purdue, he agreed to chair a group called the Rx Action Alliance, which promoted a "balanced" approach that would address abuse but maintain access for patients…

As the DEA continues its misguided war on pain management specialists, it's really quite refreshing to know that a front-running presidential candidate understands the problem. DEA's overreaction to OxyContin abuse has been disastrous, resulting in the reluctance of doctors nationwide to prescribe pain-relievers to deserving patients. Whether it was his prostate cancer, or the money Purdue paid his firm, something has led him to stand up for patient access and there's nothing wrong with that.

The only remaining question is why Giuliani is so hostile to medical marijuana. The fact pattern is remarkably similar: the stigma resulting from widespread recreational marijuana use has created a climate in which legitimate patients are denied medical access to the drug.

If only medical marijuana patients could afford to hire Giuliani Partners, LLC to help improve their public image…

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


United States

DEA targets landlords of pot outlets

Los Angeles, CA
United States
Los Angeles Times

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