Medical Marijuana

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A Revealing Remark From the Deputy Drug Czar

Deputy Drug Czar Scott Burns visited Arcata, CA last week to see "America’s grow house capitol" firsthand. After meeting with local authorities and accompanying police on a few marijuana raids, he said this:

…regarding enforcement, Burns seemed to offer a mixed message. While unyielding in asserting that federal law holds marijuana illegal under all circumstances and trumps all state and local medical cannabis laws, Burns nonetheless advised Arcatans to “defer 100 percent good judgment of the people who have been elected and appointed” while motioning to those present in the APD conference room. But most of them are working on guidelines under which medical marijuana may be safely cultivated and dispensed. [Arcata Eye]

I just cannot possibly point out often enough that the conflict between state and federal drug laws doesn't marginalize the value of state-level reforms. The deputy drug czar doesn’t arrive in California with a convoy of DEA super-narcs to slash and burn everything in sight. He can't do that and he knows it, as his remark clearly illustrates.

The federal war on medical marijuana is a political strategy designed to create the appearance of chaos in order to deter other states from implementing medical marijuana laws. Medical marijuana is more available than ever before, notwithstanding sporadic DEA activity in California. Yet we still hear folks suggesting that "the DEA will just swoop in and ruin everything" if we pass new marijuana reforms at the state-level. To be clear, the DEA has ruined many lives, but it has not ruined California's medical marijuana law. That should be obvious to all of us.

The DEA cannot overcome the will of voters and I'm tired of seeing the press and even some reformers helping them pretend they can.

Europe: Austrian Parliament Okays Medical Marijuana, But Only State Agency Can Grow It

The Austrian parliament approved a bill July 9 that allows for the cultivation of marijuana for medical and scientific purposes, Agence France-Presse reported. But the bill gives the exclusive right to grow marijuana to a health and food safety agency under the control of the Health Ministry.

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Maria-Theresien-Platz with Kunsthistorisches Museum and Hofburg Palace in background, downtown Vienna
Still, it is progress, said Michael Bach, president of the Austrian pain studies association OeSG. "Any initiative that makes it possible to develop and provide new drugs for pain therapy is welcome," he said. "Substances drawn from cannabis have been used for medical purposes more and more in the last few years," he added.

It is unclear whether or how quickly this move will result in the provision of medical marijuana to patients or whether it signals a softening of official attitudes toward medical marijuana users. Currently, possession or sales of marijuana will get you six months in prison in Austria.

Chronicle Book Review: "Dying to Get High: Marijuana as Medicine," by Wendy Chapkis and Richard J. Webb (2008, NYU Press, 244 pp., $22.00 PB)

Click here to order this book today!

Phillip S. Smith, Writer/Editor

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In "Dying to Get High," sociologists Wendy Chapkis and Richard Webb have written a sympathetic yet academically rigorous account of the contemporary controversies surrounding medical marijuana. They trace the use of marijuana as medicine in the US, its decline as a medicine in the early 20th Century, its removal from the pharmacopeia in 1941 (just four years after it was banned by federal law), the continuing blockage of research into its medical benefits by ideologically-driven federal authorities, and the renaissance of medical marijuana knowledge today, much of it derived from -- gasp! -- patients, not doctors or researchers.

As sociologists, Chapkis and Webb have a keen eye for the broader social, cultural, and political forces surrounding the issue of medical marijuana, from the rise of the pharmaceutical and medical establishments to the "culture war" contempt for marijuana and users among many Americans. But as much as middle America may disdain pot-smoking hippies, it seems that it is marijuana's location on the wrong side of the modern scientific and pharmaceutical discourse that most hinders its acceptance as a medicine.

Pot is a plant, not a pill. It is an herbal medication, not a chemical compound. It is a "crude plant material," not a "pure drug." All of this, Chapkis and Webb suggest, make it difficult indeed for the medical and scientific establishment to wrap its head around medical marijuana. And when scientific bias is coupled with cultural disdain and fear of widespread "abuse," that the federal government remains resistant to medical marijuana is hardly a surprise.

Chapkis and Webb deliver a resounding, well-reasoned indictment of the political and (pseudo) scientific opposition to medical marijuana, and their succinct discussion of the issues surrounding the controversy is worth the price of admission.

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But "Dying to Get High" is also an in-depth portrait of one of the country's most well-known medical marijuana collectives, the Wo/Men's Access to Medical Marijuana (WAMM) collective in Santa Cruz, California, and it is here that the authors are really breaking new ground. They go from the big-picture sociology of medical marijuana in the past century to narrowly focus on ethnography of a patient collective, describing in loving detail the inner workings, dynamics, and tensions of a group with charismatic leadership -- Mike and Valerie Corral -- more than 200 seriously ill patients, and the specter of the DEA always looming.

Their account of the emergence and permanence of WAMM is both moving and enlightening. Rooted in the fertile soil of Santa Cruz, already well-tilled by previous social movements such as feminism, gay rights, and AIDS activism, WAMM may only have been possible in a place that friendly to radical movements and that familiar with activism around issues of medical care and social justice. Chapkis and Webb chart its formation, its growth, its conflicts and problems, and the humanity of its suffering members.

They also tell the story of the 2002 DEA raid on the WAMM garden and its devastating impact on members. But that raid and its aftermath were not just a blow to the sick and dying, they were a call to arms, impelling WAMM into ever more overtly political action to protect itself and the broader movement.

More broadly, Chapkis and Webb do a great service by dissecting WAMM, looking at how it works, how it handles dysfunction, and how it provides a service far beyond mere medical marijuana to its members. WAMM is perhaps the model medical marijuana collective, and it has many lessons to offer the interested reader.

Would a WAMM-style collective work elsewhere? Chapkis and Webb emphasize the importance of the cultural and political backdrop in Santa Cruz in making WAMM possible, but I think the very emergence of WAMM as a successful collective makes the possibility of similar collectives coming into being elsewhere all the more likely. After all, even California as a whole is not as radicalized as Santa Cruz or San Francisco, but similar collectives are popping up in Santa Rosa and the San Fernando Valley, among other places.

In any case, Chapkis and Webb provide plenty to chew on, for those who want to pick up some historical knowledge and debating points, for those interested in the genesis of the contemporary marijuana movement, and for those who are pondering the viability of similarly radical approaches to health and self-organizing.

Click here to order this book today!

Medical Marijuana: Seattle Police Seize Hundreds of Patient Files in Raid on Co-op

Seattle police who acted after a bicycle officer smelled marijuana seized files on nearly 600 medical marijuana patients Tuesday, the Associated Press reported. After consulting with prosecutors, police raided the Lifevine cooperative and seized 12 ounces of marijuana and a computer, as well as the patient files.

According to Martin Martinez, who heads the co-op as well as Cascadia NORML, no marijuana was being grown at the scene and no one was arrested. The patient files were on hand because Cascadia NORML was preparing ID cards and needed proof the patients were legitimate, he said.

Under Washington's medical marijuana law, patients can have a 60-day supply of marijuana. The law does not define that quantity, but the state Health Department this month proposed that it be defined as 24 ounces of usable marijuana, and six mature and 18 immature plants. Seattle voters in 2003 passed an initiative making adult marijuana possession offenses the lowest law enforcement priority.

Apparently somebody in the city's law enforcement establishment didn't get the message. A spokesman for the King County prosecutor's office told the AP that police consulted a deputy prosecutor before raiding the co-op. The Seattle police have so far not commented.

Martinez and Seattle medical marijuana attorney Douglas Hiatt said they tried to persuade police and the deputy prosecutor not to raid the premises since the state's medical marijuana law was not being violated. But that didn't work.

The police "have a heck of a lot of patient records I don't think they should have," said Hiatt. "For one thing, those records are protected under federal privacy laws. If you're a medical marijuana patient, you don't want the police to know who you are or where you live, and this is why -- because you don't get treated very well."

Washington ACLU attorney Alison Chinn Holcomb told the AP there was no evidence the co-op was growing or providing marijuana and no information so far revealed that would justify seizing patient records. "These are very sick people with very serious conditions, and we're sure none of them want the nature of those conditions made available to the public or to anyone who doesn't have a valid need for it," she said.

Medical marijuana on Retirement Living TV

Debate rages nationwide over the use of marijuana for pain relief: http://www.rl.tv/VIEWPOINT/.

Hope Unlimited San Diego Cannabis Support Group Meeting

Hope Unlimited San Diego Cannabis Support Group is proud to welcome Jeff W. Jones, Executive Director of the Patient ID Center (PIDC) -- formerly known as Oakland Cannabis Buyers Cooperative (OCBC) -- to our July 24th meeting! Free food - come meet other patients, growers, caregivers, friends, family of the San Diego medical cannabis community! This is a relaxed, chill place to make new friends, learn about San Diego cannabis politics, how to get involved, MEETING A CAREGIVER, GROWER...some of many possibilities at a Hope meeting! The goal of PIDC is to provide seriously ill patients with a safe and reliable source of medical cannabis information and patient support. Our cooperative is open to all patients with a verifiable letter of recommendation for medical cannabis used to alleviate or terminate the effects of their illnesses. The PIDC is currently unable to dispense medical cannabis due to federal court order -- this ruling is currently under appeal and we will post updates as they become available. Federal statutes currently prohibit the use of cannabis as medicine. However, scientific evidence, including anecdotal evidence, documents the relief that cannabis provides to many seriously ill patients. The cooperative is dedicated to reducing the harm these patients encounter due to the prohibition of cannabis. PIDC's offices are multi-faceted facilities, accessible to people with disabilities. We provide a professional atmosphere for patients to obtain photo ID cards qualifing them under the Health and Safety Code section 11362.5, with trained member advocates on hand to offer advice and assistance. We also offer self-help services such as cultivation meetings and massage therapy by appointment. In addition, PIDC provides information on a variety of topics, including AIDS prevention and treatment, safe sex, and cannabis reform in general. (See our calendar.) The Patient ID Center currently operates under the auspices of California Proposition 215 and Oakland City Council Resolution No. 72516. Resolution 72516, and pursurant to Oakland Municpal Ordinance 8.42. Furthermore, the city has appointed a working group to oversee PIDC functions and to determine the most effective means to protect and assist seriously ill patients. For more information, see: www.hopeisunlimited.blogspot.com & www.hopeforfree.blogspot.com, or contact cannabiscaregiver@yahoo.com or 414.418.0140.
Date: 
Thu, 07/24/2008 - 8:00pm
Location: 
3949 North Ohio Street (in the North Park neighborhood)
San Diego, CA 92104
United States

Marijuana: Oregon Initiative For Regulated Sales Starts Gathering Signatures

Oregon has already decriminalized marijuana possession and enacted the second-largest state medical marijuana program in the country, and now some Oregon activists are ready to move to the next level. This week, signature gathering began for the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act (OCTA), which would provide for marijuana to be sold in retail stores, among other things.

According to initiative sponsors, the act would provide for "regulating and taxing adult sales; licensing the cultivation of the drug for sale in state-run package stores and adults-only businesses; allowing adults to grow their own and farmers to grow industrial hemp without license; and letting doctors prescribe untaxed cannabis to patients suffering from a variety of illnesses and injuries."

The initiative effort is being led by D. Paul Stanford of the Campaign for the Restoration and Regulation of Hemp (CRRH) and Madeline Martinez, head of Oregon NORML. Whether other elements of the state's sometimes fractious marijuana community will come on board remains to be seen.

Parts of the community had been in the defensive mode as they prepared to fend off an attack on the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act (OMMA) by conservative crime-fighting initiative specialist Kevin Mannix. But Mannix recently took the assault on OMMA off the table, at least for now, and Stanford and Martinez are ready to sail through the breach.

Organizers need 80,000 signatures to put the measure before voters in the November 2010 election. They say the measure will generate millions of dollars a year for the state's general fund through sales to adults. Additional revenues from pot taxes would go to drug treatment programs.

Do Pharmaceutical Companies Support Marijuana Prohibition?

For most drug policy reformers, the answer is probably an exasperated "duh," but a fascinating piece at Huffington Post from NORML's Paul Armentano raises some very plausible doubts about the popular theory that the pharmaceutical industry is pushing pot prohibition to kill competition.

I highly recommend reading the whole thing before forming an opinion, but here are the basic points as I understand them:

1. Pharmaceutical companies are vigorously pursuing patents on various marijuana components and derivatives for a great variety of potential medical applications. Given the rigorous and heavily politicized FDA approval process they'll ultimately need to pass, there's no sense in indulging anti-marijuana hysteria within the government bureaucracy.

2. These products will ultimately be marketed to a populace that has been spoon-fed mindless anti-pot propaganda for decades. Since the origins of the coming generation of marijuana-based medicines will be widely known, their manufacturers have an interest in marijuana being trusted, rather than feared, within the marketplace.

3. Pharmaceutical companies understand that marijuana can never live up to its reputation as a panacea that can replace modern medicine. This is true because most people don't smoke it, and most people don’t want their medicines grown on a tree. Conditions in places where medical marijuana is currently widely available demonstrate this.

4. Government bureaucrats, police and prison lobbies, and voters who've succumbed to drug war propaganda are the real forces behind marijuana prohibition.

Paul also observes the important role marijuana reform efforts have played in fostering a climate in which marijuana-based medicines have become recognized as viable. Only by breaking down bit by bit the barrier of hysteria surrounding marijuana have we been able to set a tone in which medical marijuana research can be discussed rationally in the public domain. There are exceptions, of course, but now that the science and the will of the voters can speak for themselves, corporate profiteers associate marijuana with dollar signs, not reefer madness.

It has also been proposed by some in the reform movement that pharmaceuticalized marijuana may lead to a crack down on the medical use of herbal marijuana, as corporate profiteers pressure police to purge their most obvious competitor. I reject that notion for a couple reasons: 1) the marketing of new marijuana-based medicines will have a trickle-down effect of politically legitimizing pre-existing medical marijuana activity. 2) We can't afford to bust 'em now, we won't be able to afford to bust 'em then. 3) The risk of jury nullification when bringing medical marijuana cases to trial is substantial and will remain so.

Finally, though Paul doesn't address this, many people have cited instances of pharmaceutical companies supporting organizations like Partnership For a Drug Free America as evidence of their complicity in the war on marijuana. I've attempted to research this in the past and couldn't find anything worth our time. The story died on my desk. To the extent that pharmaceutical companies fund so-called "anti-drug" advocacy, I now believe it has nothing to do with marijuana, but rather with a desire to proactively cover their asses for the destructive effects of the legal drugs they themselves manufacture and market.

So, I believe Paul's analysis should probably replace much of the conventional wisdom that currently exists on this issue. Unless other evidence emerges, or other experts of Paul Armentano's caliber (few exist), emerge to convincingly challenge his assertions, the burden of proof placed on those blaming Big Pharma for marijuana prohibition has been raised several notches today. If this helps us to refocus our advocacy towards other more demonstrable, palatable, and persuasive arguments for reform, that would be a good thing.

Democrats for Safe Access Medical Cannabis Rally

Richard Eastman, along with Making Social Change, is planning a medical cannabis rally and march, under the name Democrats for Safe Access at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Co. The required permits were applied for some time ago and were initially denied. However, after some persistence and assistance from the ACLU, the necessary permits were issued for a demonstration up to 10,000 people. We invite you to come and join us in asking the next presidential nominee of the Democratic Party for his support. We seek the support of a unified Party to require their candidate, if elected President, to stop federal criminalization of medical cannabis. We urge any and all groups who have an interest in this cause (i.e.: political watchdogs, patient advocates, voter's rights, associated industries, etc.) and individuals alike to provide whatever assistance they can through sponsoring and/or volunteering. Please contact Duke Smith, Event Chairman, at (818) 914-9560 to coordinate efforts. Democrats for Safe Access 4848 Lexington Ave., Suite 109, Hollywood, CA 90029 Tel: 323-474-4602, Fax: 323-882-6263
Date: 
Thu, 08/28/2008 - 1:15pm
Location: 
Denver, CO
United States

Americans for Safe Access: July 2008 Activist Newsletter

Student Members of AMA Endorse Access to Medical Marijuana

Resolution Goes to Full American Medical Association for November Vote

The prestigious American Medical Association (AMA) will consider endorsing therapeutic use of cannabis at its next interim meeting in November.

In June, the Medical Student Section (MSS) of the AMA, led by an ASA medical advisor, approved a resolution urging the physicians group to support the reclassification of marijuana for medical use. The MSS will send the resolution to the AMA House of Delegates for a final vote in November.

"While it is an historic occasion for any section of the AMA to endorse medical marijuana, the MSS is merely affirming existing science and urging the adoption of a sensible medical marijuana policy," said AMA-MSS member Sunil Aggarwal, who serves on ASA's Medical and Scientific Advisory Board and is pushing the effort to gain AMA endorsement. "As a future medical doctor, I look forward to exploring and utilizing the many medical benefits of cannabinoid medicines in patient care."

With nearly 50,000 members, the MSS is the largest and most influential organization of medical students in the United States.

"This is a positive and necessary step in the right direction," said Dr. David Ostrow, a member of the AMA and Chair of ASA's Medical and Scientific Advisory Board. "We are hopeful that the full house of delegates will follow the example set by the American College of Physicians and place the needs and safety of our patients above politics."

In February, the American College of Physicians (ACP) adopted a resolution that called for rescheduling marijuana to make it available by prescription and expanding research into its medical efficacy. With 124,000 members, the ACP is the country's second largest physician group and the largest organization of doctors of internal medicine.

Since 1996, twelve U.S. states have adopted medical marijuana laws. Public opinion polls consistently show that as many as 4 out of 5 Americans support access to medical marijuana.

The AMA-MSS resolution is online here.

ASA Fights Counties' Challenge to Calif. Medical Cannabis Law

Joins ACLU and State AG in Arguing Appeal of ID Card Ruling

Two California counties faced off against ASA, the ACLU and the state attorney general in appeals court last month, arguing whether the state's medical cannabis law should be enforced. San Diego and San Bernardino counties do not want to implement California's patient ID program and are appealing a superior court ruling that said they must.

ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford

In an unusual move by the justices, an overflow room was set up with television coverage from the courtroom to accommodate the extraordinary turnout in court to hear oral arguments from ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford, Adam Wolfe of the American Civil Liberties Union and Deputy Attorney General Peter Krause.

The counties are contending that federal law preempts California's medical marijuana laws. San Bernardino also argues that when the legislature added the card program they unconstitutionally amend the 1996 initiative enacted by voters.

Attorneys for patients told the justices that they should affirm the lower court ruling that California's decision not to arrest or prosecute medical marijuana patients is valid, even if the federal government prohibits all marijuana use.

"States have traditionally been entrusted with caring for the health and welfare of their citizens," said ASA's Elford. "Proper implementation of California's medical marijuana laws benefits patients, law enforcement, and the entire state."

The case is the result of the November 2005 vote by San Diego County Board of Supervisors to challenge the legislature's patient ID card program, a move that was joined by two others, San Bernardino and Merced. Merced agreed to implement the program after it lost the case in November 2006.

"San Diego and San Bernardino Counties remain intent on defying the will of California's voters and the well-being of thousands of sick and dying patients at tremendous taxpayer expense," said Adam Wolf, the ACLU attorney. "The counties' legally dubious lawsuit is a slap in the face to medical marijuana patients and the voters of California."
A ruling in the case from the California 4th District Court of Appeal is expected later this summer.

Additional information on the case is available online here.

ASA Chapter Focus: Western North Carolina

Among the affiliates of Americans for Safe Access enjoying recent success in defending patient rights is the Western North Carolina chapter, ASAWNC. Chapter members testified last month before the state legislature in support of making medical use legal in North Carolina, and the director's caregiver prevailed in an important court case.

On June 25, ASAWNC members traveled across the state to the capitol in Raleigh for the North Carolina House Science & Technology committee hearing regarding NC H.R. 2405, which is a bill to study the public benefits of allowing medical marijuana in the state. Joining ASAWNC director Jean Marlowe in testifying before the committee in support of the bill was former Surgeon-General Dr. Jocelyn Elders, as well as Dr. Laura Hanson of Chapel Hill and patient Dixie Deerman, who is a Registered Nurse in Asheville.

That testimony came just two days after Steve Marlowe, Jean's caregiver, won an important ruling in state court, where he was facing state marijuana charges. The judge threw out all evidence obtained with the search warrant, ruling that the informant used by the Polk County Sheriff's Department was "not a credible witness" and that they had acted with "willful intent, or with reckless disregard for the law" in using this informant as a basis for their search warrant. As a result, all charges were dismissed later that day.

By the end of the week, the District Attorney had ordered the sheriff to return all property taken from the Marlowes, except for the marijuana. This was the third time law enforcement has been ordered to return equipment to the Marlowe home. ASAWNC made sure news media was on hand to cover the return of property.

For more about ASAWNC, see their videos on YouTube at
www.youtube.com/asawnc and www.youtube.com/marloweism.

RESEARCH UPDATES

Cannabinoids Fight Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Tumor Growth

Swedish researchers report success using the endocannabinoid system to fight non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

The findings, published in the International Journal of Cancer, show that a cannabinoid agonist halts the spread and growth of cancerous tumors in animals with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Investigators report that mice treated with the cannabinoid agonist experienced a 40 percent reduction in tumor weight.

The researchers conclude that ability of cannabinoids to both restrict the proliferation of cancer cells and reprogram the cells to die off makes "the endocannabinoid system a potential new therapeutic target for individualized therapy in lymphomas."

These findings are consistent with earlier studies that have shown cannabinoids can halt the spread of many types of cancers, including brain, breast, lung, prostate and pancreatic cancers.

New Anti-inflammatory Compound Found in Cannabis

A new anti-inflammatory compound that is not psychoactive has been found in large concentrations in the cannabis plant. The compound, which can ease swelling, pain and inflammation, may lead to the development of new treatments for such diseases as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and Crohn's disease.

The chemical, called beta-caryophyllene, helps combat inflammation without affecting the brain. Researchers demonstrated in an animal study that beta-caryophyllene attaches to CB-2 cannabinoid receptors, producing the anti-inflammatory effect, but not to the CB-1 receptors, which are associated with the psychoactive effects of THC and other cannabinoids.

Analysis of cannabis has found it to contain as much as 35% beta-caryophyllene. Other common plants that contain the oil include black pepper, oregano, basil, lime, cinnamon, carrots, and celery.

Clinical Neuropathy Trial Shows Cannabis Effective

Even low doses of smoked cannabis can be effective in managing hard-to-treat neuropathic pain, according to California researchers. Investigators found that low- and high-dose cannabis produced similar levels of pain relief, reducing both the intensity and unpleasantness of the often unbearable nerve pain.

The researchers note that cannabis not only fights pain itself but also interacts with opiod painkillers to increase their effectiveness, particularly in neuropathic pain. They also note that using isolated synthetic cannabinoids such as THC (dronabinol) does not provide the same degree of efficacy as a whole-plant preparation of cannabis.

In conclusion, investigators observe that "cannabis does not rely on a relaxing or tranquillizing effect but rather reduces both the core component of nociception [the nerve transmission of pain] and the emotional aspect of the pain experience to an equal degree."

Case Studies Show THC Can Relieve Depression

While many patients report cannabis use has a positive impact on mental health issues ranging from anxiety to depression, such use is controversial and rarely studied. A recent pair of case studies from Austria, published last month in the journal of the International Association for Cannabis as Medicine, describe oral administration of synthetic THC (dronabinol) helping two women with chronic depression. The author reports that 8 out of 10 depressive patients he has treated with synthetic THC exhibited "swift improvement." He concludes that clinical studies of the "effectiveness of cannabinoids for the treatment of depression … are desirable and promising."

NATIONAL ACTION ALERT
Defend Patients and Caregivers, Tell Congress to Stop Funding Medical Marijuana Raids Today!

It's time to stop wasting taxpayer dollars on raiding state-licensed patients and providers. Congress can do it. The Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment to the Commerce-Justice-State appropriations bill instructs the Department of Justice to use its money wisely and specifically prohibits the Department from using appropriated funds to conduct raids or otherwise prevent the various states from implementing laws that authorize the therapeutic use of cannabis.

Tell your U.S. Representative that, if adopted, this amendment will do two things:

(1) Conserve taxpayers' money by eliminating funding for DEA raids aimed at state-certified medical cannabis patients and caregivers.

(2) Protect legal medical cannabis patients from having their homes and workspaces raided by the DEA.
For phone numbers of your representatives go to: www.house.gov or call the congressional switchboard at: (202) 224-3121.

Or contact George@AmericansforSafeAccess for additional info.

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