Medical Marijuana

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Why Does PayPal Have a Problem With Medical Marijuana?

Our friends at NORML have run into a weird misunderstanding with the folks at PayPal. Apparently, the company has a vague drug policy and they've chosen to interpret it rather broadly:

Paypal, the well-known internet payment company has told California NORML that it will no longer accept payments to our “type of business” because we accept listing payments from cannabis-recommending physicians.

After years of offering free listings to physicians and collectives at our website, CaNORML began charging a yearly listing fee to cover our costs last year.

PayPal froze CaNORML’s account in June, saying that by accepting listing fees from collectives, we were violating their Acceptable Use policy, which says, “you may not use PayPal in the purchase or sale of narcotics.”  

It's absurd on so many levels:

1. It's medical marijuana, not "narcotics." It's perfectly legal under state law and even the federal dept. of justice has agreed to respect state policies.

2. California NORML isn’t buying or selling medical marijuana. They're accepting donations and listing their sponsors. In no way does this violate the terms of PayPal's acceptable use policy.

3. Even after California NORML removed listings for collectives, PayPal maintained that there was a problem with listing physicians on its site. Physicians? They don't even provide medical marijuana, so now you start to get the idea that PayPal is just being nasty. Do they want NORML to stop mentioning marijuana altogether?

But here's the really unbelievably stupid thing about all this:

4.  You can buy alcohol on PayPal. You can straight-up order booze through PayPal and have it delivered to your door, but they have a problem with NORML merely taking donations from folks in the medical marijuana industry?

There is no excuse for this. PayPal is under no legal obligation whatsoever to behave this way and their hypocrisy must not be allowed to go unnoticed. This isn’t even a question of medical access. No marijuana was even being sold through their service. This is about the freedom of PayPal clients to associate with their patrons without being subjected to false and erroneous restrictions that reek of political prejudice.

If PayPal thinks it's bad business to be associated with the medical marijuana community, let's show them how wrong they are. You can contact PayPal here:

PayPal, 2211 N 1st St, San Jose 95131 (408) 376-7400

I recommend reading the whole story from NORML first, so that your correspondence is fully informed. As always, we make the best impression by being firm, but also polite.

Busy Night on the Medical Marijuana Front

Some people think that Drug War Chronicle should be called the "Bad News Chronicle" or the "Chronicle of Misfortunes" instead. Though it's been noted that there's a lot more good news these days than there used to be -- this week's issue does have some good news -- so be sure to read it! Two late-breaking items came in after we wrapped up the issue -- neither of them good:
Los Angeles County's district attorney says they're going to start prosecuting dispensaries -- starting with Organica. Their legal basis is a ruling last year by the state supreme court. And, indictments have started in San Diego, after the mass raids last month.
Regarding LA, I don't know a lot of the dispensary operators down there -- there are so many -- but Organica is one of the very few where I do happen to know some of the people involved. They are activists and stalwarts for the cause, and they deserve less than almost anyone for this to happen to them. The luck of the draw is coldly neutral, I guess -- not that I would wish a drug war prosecution on anyone. Let us continue to hope for the best...
United States

Feature: What About the Clinton and Bush Era Medical Marijuana Prisoners and Defendants?

When Attorney General Eric Holder announced back in March that he would not use Justice Department resources to go after medical marijuana patients and providers in states where it is legal unless they were violating both state and federal laws, he ushered in a new era in the battle over medical marijuana. Since then, the number of DEA raids on providers has dwindled -- if not quite down to zero, still a dramatic improvement over the last years of the Bush administration.
Naulls family (courtesy
Still, while the pace of raids and prosecutions has declined, the raids continue. There have been at least a dozen raids where federal law enforcement was present since the Obama administration took power.

But even in this arguably new era, there is left-over business to take care of from the Bush days, and some from the Clinton days. Medical marijuana providers convicted under federal drug laws remain imprisoned. Medical marijuana providers raided, but not yet charged, have the specter of federal prosecution hanging over them. Medical marijuana providers arrested on federal drug charges remain subject to prosecution. And hold-over US Attorneys from the Bush era continue to prosecute them. Another Bush administration hold-over, Michelle Leonhart, remains in charge at DEA.

According to the medical marijuana defense group Americans for Safe Access (ASA), at least 130 medical marijuana patients and providers are being prosecuted, or have been prosecuted or convicted under federal drug laws. ASA also lists 10 medical marijuana providers currently in federal prison. That list does not include an 11th person, Eddy Lepp, who is now serving a mandatory minimum 10-year prison term, because Lepp defended himself with a religious freedom defense, even though he was growing for medicinal reasons.

Some of the victims of the federal campaign are well known, such as "Guru of Ganja" Ed Rosenthal, who was prosecuted over a permitted grow in Oakland; Dr. Mollie Fry and her partner, Dale Shafer, who were sentenced to serve time in federal prison; Eddy Lepp; and Bryan Epis, the first medical marijuana provider prosecuted by the feds, who served two years of a mandatory minimum 10-year prison sentence before being released on appeal. (Epis has created petitions seeking justice for himself and other medical marijuana martyrs; you can view them here.)

Others are lesser known, but equally deserving of justice -- Ronnie Naulls, for example. Naulls operated a permitted dispensary in Corona, California and paid his taxes, but still got raided and arrested under federal law. Authorities turned his three children over to California Child Protection Services, and his wife was forced to plead guilty to a felony child endangerment count or face federal charges because the couple had marijuana in their home. The couple got their kids back, but Naulls faces a preliminary hearing next week.
Eddy Lepp, at event (
Or Dustin Costa. A medical marijuana patient and provider and head of the Merced Patients Groups, Costa was arrested on state charges by Merced County sheriff's deputies in March 2004. After a year and a half of state court proceedings, the Merced District Attorney turned his case over to the feds. Costa was convicted of federal charges of cultivation, possession with intent to distribute, and possession of a firearm. He's now three years into a 13-year sentence, which he is serving at the federal prison in Big Springs, Texas.

Or the multiple people arrested in the San Francisco Sunset dispensary raids in 2005 and the San Diego dispensary raids in 2006. The former netted 33 people, the latter six. All still face federal prosecution.

"We have seen a continuation of the prosecutions that began under Bush," said ASA spokesman Kris Hermes. "This is unfortunate given that they've signaled a change in federal policy. Nor is there any evidence they will pardon or commute sentences or stop prosecuting those people indicted under Bush but who have not yet completed the prosecutorial process."

"What needs to be done is that the Justice Department should review all those cases in light of current policy and rethink the pending prosecutions of those people who would have been left alone based on the policy now being enforced," said Bruce Mirken, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "I am sure there are at least some whose actions appear legal under state law. It would be nice to see those folks left alone and no further tax dollars wasted persecuting them. It would also be nice to see the use of presidential pardon power in those cases who would not be prosecuted now have already been sentenced and are sitting in federal prison."

But Mirken isn't holding his breath. "I wish I thought that was going to happen immediately, but Obama's saving his political capital for other stuff," he said.

One key to seeing real change from the federal government is getting real change in the federal government. With Bush appointees still in place at DEA and in the US Attorney positions, the Bush era prosecutions continue, and so do the raids.

"Obama is really behind on that," said Dale Gieringer, director of California NORML. "As I recall, Bush appointed Asa Hutchinson DEA director in August 2001, and here we are in October of Obama's first year and there's still a Bush appointee there. I recall very specifically that we saw the first raids orchestrated by US Attorneys within a couple of weeks of 9/11. That's when they went after Dr. Molly Fry and the Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Center. It only took until September of his first year for Bush to have an aggressive new team in place, but so far under Obama, we have nobody new at DEA and no new US Attorneys. In Northern California, the US Attorney is still the same guy who was appointed by Reagan. The rate of change is disappointing," Gieringer said.
July 2005 protest in Washington after suicide of Steve McWilliams, San Diego medical marijuana provider who was facing federal prosecution
"The fact that a new head of DEA and new US Attorneys have not been appointed may present a problem in establishing a new policy on medical marijuana," said Hermes. "In at least a half dozen cases currently being prosecuted, the federal judges have asked for clarification on the administration's new policy before they proceed. That federal judges are balking at these continuing prosecutions in light of the supposed new policy from the Obama administration ought to be a concern to the administration. But what they're getting in response from the administration is not hopeful. The Department of Justice is saying it sees no reason to discontinue these cases or move them to state court."

State court is where these medical marijuana cases belong, said the ASA spokesman. "Our position is that the federal government doesn't need to prosecute any medical marijuana cases in federal court," said Hermes. "If they think there is a violation of state law, they should leave it up to the state courts to adjudicate that. As long as they're in federal court, the government won't be debating whether the defendants were in compliance with state law -- they don't even have to address that, and they won't, because it would hinder their chances of obtaining convictions. There is no role for the Justice Department in prosecuting state law violation medical marijuana cases in federal court," Hermes argued.

For those already convicted, it's too late for state court. The only relief they are even remotely likely to see is a presidential pardon or commutation.

"I have this goal of getting Eddy Lepp out before his sentence expires," said Gieringer. "But to get out prison, you have to apply for a pardon. My understanding is it's sort of up to the prisoners and their attorneys to get that together. I don't know that anyone has started on that project yet."

Not yet, but it looks like one is in the works. "We're looking at mounting a campaign to win pardons for those people currently serving federal sentences," said Hermes, noting that some of them are doing as many as 20 years.

But don't count on the Obama administration to take the initiative, said Gieringer. "We're in a period of benign neglect," he said. "Obama is weaker now and less interested in these issues. He's not inclined to do anything, unlike Bush, who was forceful and assertive in the wrong directions. Now, there's a different dynamic going on. We're going to have to push as hard as we can, and hopefully we can get Obama's attention."

In the meantime, some nonviolent medical marijuana patients and providers rot in federal prison, others are having to continue to fight their federal prosecutions, and even more -- those raided but never (not yet) charged -- possibly face the same fate. We won't be to a new era until we take care of this old business.

Washington Post Punches Marijuana Prohibition in the Teeth

Wow, if the drug czar was annoyed with The Washington Post last week, I wish I could see the look on his face when he reads this:

Cartels Face an Economic Battle
U.S. Marijuana Growers Cutting Into Profits of Mexican Traffickers

ARCATA, Calif. -- Stiff competition from thousands of mom-and-pop marijuana farmers in the United States threatens the bottom line for powerful Mexican drug organizations in a way that decades of arrests and seizures have not, according to law enforcement officials and pot growers in the United States and Mexico. 

Medical marijuana laws have legitimized enough of the marijuana economy to begin vividly illustrating the long-term impact of regulated distribution. The hypothesis has been proven: people don't buy from drug cartels if they don’t have to.

This simple and obvious fact demolishes any attempt to argue that legalization won't work. It's already working. Just watch.

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

Please join us at this meeting -- all are welcome. Snacks are served. Meeting at the library does not imply their endorsement of our issue. For more info, contact: Ken Wolski, RN, MPA, Executive Director, Coalition for Medical Marijuana--New Jersey, Inc. at (609) 394-2137 or About CMM-NJ Coalition members hold diverse opinions, but we all agree: 1) Arresting patients is wrong, and it must stop now. 2) Modern clinical research, centuries of experience and the impassioned personal accounts of thousands of real patients concur: Marijuana can alleviate symptoms of certain serious medical conditions, and it can do so when other drugs fail to help. 3) Doctors should be free to recommend this medicine to promote health, and sick or injured New Jerseyans should be free to use it responsibly. 4) The safety margin for therapeutic marijuana is as wide as it can be - there is no known lethal dose.
Tue, 10/13/2009 - 7:00pm - 9:00pm
2751 Brunswick Pike
Lawrence Township, NJ
United States

A Lesson in Etiquette for Drug Policy Activists

This story is the most perfect example possible of how not to behave if you want people to sympathize with our cause:

The battle to keep medical marijuana collectives from expanding in Mission Square on Bechelli Lane in Redding took a bizarre turn this week.

Moments before Wednesday's Mission Square property owners meeting, someone dressed in a green Grinch costume with a giant imitation penis attached stepped out of a limousine and walked into Giff's Steakburger - the site of the meeting.

The Grinch announced to Mission Square owners that a new cannabis shop - Hampton Collective - would open in the former Humor Shop space on the north side of the shopping center.

"I don't know, I was just trying to be funny. I guess it didn't work out," Bobby Martin, who dressed up as the Grinch, said by phone Thursday. []

I find the whole thing simultaneously hilarious and infuriating. But mostly infuriating. This kind of behavior makes a mockery of everything the medical marijuana movement has fought so hard to achieve.

Pete Guither responds brilliantly by making a point I've raised repeatedly in other contexts. To paraphrase: it's not about doing or saying what feels good to you, it's about impressing and persuading other people. Admittedly, it's often very difficult to fully understand what our opponents are thinking, but you have to at least try. You might not get it right every time, but you sure as hell won't show up in a Grinch costume with a dildo strapped between your legs.

Our goal is neither to shock nor intimidate our opposition. The goal is to change the minds of those who've previously opposed us. We'll win when we convince enough people that drug policy reform is in everyone's best interests not just our own.

Medical Cannabis Patients' Capitol Convergence

Medical cannabis patients and their supporters will hold a rally at Lafayette Park in support of the FDA's rescheduling of cannabis' medicinal use under the Controlled Substance Act. This rally, which is specifically intended to draw attention to People Living With AIDS (PLWA's) who use Medical Cannabis, will coincide with the National March for Gay Rights and Equality on October 11th. Speaking at the rally will be San Franciscans Dennis Peron, author of "Proposition 215" the medical cannabis law that allows patients to grow cannabis in California, and Cleve Jones, founder of the AIDS Quilt. Both men were close friends of legendary mayor and gay rights activist, Harvey Milk. Also speaking will be L.A. City Councilman, Bill Rosenthal on behalf of the city of Los Angeles, California. From 4:20 til 4:30, Rally attendees have permission to take a group photo in front of the White House which will later be made into a postcard and mailed to President Barack Obama. While in Washington DC, Dennis and Richard Eastman, both longtime medical cannabis activists, plan to meet with the Mayor and the City Council of Washington, DC. They hope to urge them to implement DC's medical marijuana law (Initiative 59), a law, which DC voters passed overwhelmingly 10 years ago. Since then, this legislation has been stifled by Congressman Bob Barr, who attached riders to annual DC spending budgets and subsequently banned it's implementation into law for almost a decade. This summer Congress removed the retired Congressman's wording from this year's DC spending budget and left the door open for medical cannabis in the District of Columbia.
Sat, 10/10/2009 - 12:00pm - 4:30pm
1600 Pennsylvania Ave
Washington, DC
United States

Iowa Board of Pharmacy Public Hearing on Medical Marijuana

The Iowa Board of Pharmacy will conduct a third in a series of four monthly public hearings on the medical value of marijuana. Carl Olsen and George McMahon of Iowans for Medical Marijuana will attend the hearing in Iowa City and will be available to answer questions from the press and public. On April 24, Polk County District Judge Joel D. Novak ruled that the Pharmacy Board unlawfully rejected a petition by Iowans for Medical Marijuana’s Board of Directors to remove marijuana from its current classification as a substance having no accepted medical use in treatment in the United States. The petition was based on the fact that marijuana has been accepted for medical use in 13 states in the United States. On July 21, the Board of Pharmacy again rejected the petition, ruling that accepted medical use in treatment in the United States means accepted medical use in all 50 states. The Iowa Board of Pharmacy insists it can determine whether marijuana has accepted medical use in the United States based on science, not on 13 state laws. Another court hearing has been scheduled for October 9 in the Polk County District Court to review the Board’s July 21st supplemental ruling. Whatever the science shows, it’s clear the Iowa Board of Pharmacy has no authority to recommend marijuana be accepted for medical use in any state other than Iowa. The authority of a state administrative agency ends at its own state’s borders. For More Information: Carl Olsen, 515-343-9933
Wed, 10/07/2009 - 12:00pm - 7:00pm
51 Newton Rd
Iowa City, IA
United States

Press Release: Pharmacy Board ordered to appear in Polk County District court again on October 9th

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 5, 2009 CONTACT: Carl Olsen at 515-343-9933 Pharmacy Board ordered to appear in Polk County District court again on October 9th The Iowa Board of Pharmacy will conduct a third in a series of four monthly public hearings on the medical value of marijuana. The hearing is scheduled to take place Wednesday, October 7, 2009, Noon to 7:00 p.m. in the 3rd Floor Auditorium of the Bowen Science Building, University of Iowa, Iowa City. Carl Olsen and George McMahon of Iowans for Medical Marijuana will attend the hearing in Iowa City and will be available to answer questions from the press and public. On April 24, Polk County District Judge Joel D. Novak ruled that the Pharmacy Board unlawfully rejected a petition by Iowans for Medical Marijuana’s Board of Directors to remove marijuana from its current classification as a substance having no accepted medical use in treatment in the United States. The petition was based on the fact that marijuana has been accepted for medical use in 13 states in the United States. On July 21, the Board of Pharmacy again rejected the petition, ruling that accepted medical use in treatment in the United States means accepted medical use in all 50 states. The Iowa Board of Pharmacy insists it can determine whether marijuana has accepted medical use in the United States based on science, not on 13 state laws. Another court hearing has been scheduled for October 9 in the Polk County District Court to review the Board’s July 21st supplemental ruling. Whatever the science shows, it’s clear the Iowa Board of Pharmacy has no authority to recommend marijuana be accepted for medical use in any state other than Iowa. The authority of a state administrative agency ends at its own state’s borders. ###
Iowa City, IA
United States

Feature: NORML Annual Conference Meets in Atmosphere of Hope, Determination, and Exhilaration

Riding a wave of enthusiasm about increasing prospects for marijuana law reform, hundreds of people poured into the Grand Hyatt Hotel in downtown San Francisco last Thursday for the 38th annual national conference of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). By the time it ended with a Saturday night NORML benefit, the conference had left most attendees even more energized than when they arrived.

Gathering under the slogan "Yes, We Cannabis" and sensing a fresh breeze blowing since the inauguration of President Barack Obama, conference organizers, speakers, and attendees spent three days in sessions devoted to medical marijuana issues, the prospects for legalization in California (and beyond), the change in public attitudes around marijuana, what parents should tell kids about pot, and much, much more.

The conference was California-centric, but understandably so. Not only was a California city the host for the conference, the Golden State's constantly mutating medical marijuana industry is creating an omnipresent and accessible distribution system, and California is now the home of four competing marijuana legalization initiative campaigns and a similar effort in the state legislature.

In between (and sometimes during) sessions, the pungent odor of pot smoke hung in the air over the Hyatt's outdoor patio as patients medicated and non-patients just plain got high. Hippie attire abounded, but in contrast to the stoner stereotypes, there were plenty of people in suits and ties toking away, too.

At least three newsworthy items came out of the conference:

  • At a Saturday press conference, Oaksterdam University head Richard Lee, the leading proponent of the legalization initiative most likely to actually make the November 2010 ballot -- because it has Lee's financial backing -- announced the formal beginning of signature gathering for the Regulate, Control, and Tax Cannabis Act, which would allow California cities and counties the local option to legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and a 25-square foot garden. Accompanied by former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper, "Marijuana Is Safer" author Mason Tvert, and fellow initiative proponent Jeff Jones, Lee also announced the measure's endorsement by former state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, who is running for mayor of Oakland.
  • State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-SF), author of Assembly Bill 390, which would legalize the possession, growing, and sale of marijuana for people 21 or over, announced Friday that he will hold an informational hearing on his bill. The date is tentatively set for October 28 at the capitol in Sacramento. The current political climate has created a "perfect storm" for marijuana law reform, he said. "It's certainly connected to California's economy, which is in the toilet," he added.
  • Oakland City Council member and medical marijuana supporter Rebecca Kaplan (D) announced Saturday that the city is preparing to issue permits for medical marijuana growing and processing operations and for medical marijuana edibles production. The city already has issued permits to four dispensaries, and voters there this summer approved a dispensary-led initiative to add a special medical marijuana tax on them. "We gave permits for a federal felony for the dispensaries, and they didn't bust them -- even under Bush," she said. "We protected them." And now, Oakland is set to expand those protections to other sectors of the industry.

"There is no doubt that today, Sept. 25, 2009, is the moment of genuine zeitgeist to decriminalizing marijuana in America," said NORML executive director Allen St. Pierre as the conference opened. "This conference represents that we are at that tipping point."

But where the movement goes from here was open to heated and healthy debate. Thursday's sessions, which were devoted primarily to the intricacies of medical marijuana dispensing in California, saw detailed discussion of the minutiae of defining collectives and co-ops and operating within state law and the state attorney general's guidelines, but they also saw calls from some leading voices warning about the medicalization of marijuana.

Dr. Frank Lucido, a leading medical marijuana advocate, while lauding the work of the medical marijuana movement, said the weed should really be treated like an over-the-counter herbal supplement. "This should be out of the hands of doctors and in the hands of herbalists," he argued.

Similarly, Steven DeAngelo of the Harborside Health Center, an Oakland dispensary, pointed out that California's medical marijuana distribution system is creating a situation where "cannabis consumption is part of the mainstream." In a speech delivered at the conference, he argued that effective medical marijuana laws are paving the way for a day where medical recommendations are not required to obtain cannabis legally. "Most over-the-counter drugs are far more harmful than marijuana, but there are no restrictions on them," he said. "Let's not waste medical resources on something that doesn't require them."

But the most heated debates were around what is the best path toward outright legalization in California. With several initiatives and an assembly bill all in play, opinion was deeply divided on whether to wait for the legislative process to work its way, to support the Oaksterdam initiative -- which was almost universally considered the most conservative of the initiatives, but which also has the best chance of making the ballot -- or to support one of the competing initiatives.

Joe Rogosin, one of three Northern California defense attorneys who authored the California Cannabis Initiative, admitted that his initiative lacked the deep pockets of the Oaksterdam initiative, but argued that it was still superior to the Oakland effort. It repeals all state laws forbidding people 21 and over from possessing, growing, or selling marijuana.

"We don't want people to go to jail for cannabis," Rogosin said. "Unlike Richard's, our initiative actually legalizes cannabis."

While contending camps were fighting over who had the best initiative, other movement members were warning that none of them were likely to pass. Marijuana Policy Project executive director Rob Kampia said that his group would not be devoting substantial resources to the initiatives and would not formally endorse them, but would render what low-budget aid it could if one of them actually makes the ballot.

California NORML head Dale Gieringer was blunt in his assessment of the measures' chances. "I don't expect any of them to pass," he said flatly.

As always, California pot politics is in turmoil, and while circular firing squads are not quite forming, the movement is in danger of shooting itself in the foot if it fails to get behind an initiative that makes the ballot -- or if it does get behind an initiative and that initiative loses badly at the ballot box.

There was, of course, much more going on at the NORML conference. Check out the NORML web site for updates with conference content. And keep an eye on California, because marijuana reform is one hot topic there now.

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