Americans for Safe Access
Monthly Activist Newsletter
Volume 4, Issue 8
Calif. Senate Committee Urges New Federal Policy on Medical Marijuana
Resolution calls for comprehensive federal approach
Some California state senators are pushing for comprehensive changes in federal policy on medical cannabis.
After hearing testimony from Americans for Safe Access and other patient advocates, the California Senate Health Committee last month passed a resolution urging an end to federal interference in state medical marijuana programs, as well as a new national approach that supports research and makes the drug available in all states.
Introduced in June by State Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and sponsored by ASA, the resolution is now before the Senate Judiciary Committee. If passed there, it will go before the full Senate.
"Patients and providers in California remain at risk of arrest and prosecution by federal law enforcement, and legally established medical marijuana cooperatives continue to be the subjects of federal raids," said Sen. Leno in a statement.
Senate Joint Resolution 14 asks the federal government to both curtail raids in the state and "create a comprehensive federal medical marijuana policy that ensures safe and legal access to any patient that would benefit from it."
The resolution also urges President Obama and Congress to establish "an affirmative defense to medical marijuana charges in federal court and establish federal legal protection for individuals authorized by state and local law."
Don Duncan, ASA's California Director, and Lanette Davies, a Sacramento patient and activist were among those who explained to the senators why this is so important.
"With more than two dozen medical marijuana defendants currently being prosecuted by the Justice Department, each of them facing many years in prison, such a policy change would be timely, relevant and critically important," said Duncan. "The entire country needs a sensible, comprehensive medical marijuana policy."
While the Obama Administration has stated that it has a new policy on medical cannabis, federal raids on patients and providers have continued.
Currently, medical marijuana patients and providers charged under federal law cannot introduce evidence about their medical condition, their doctor's advice, or state medical marijuana laws.
The California Senate resolution also seeks expanded research into the medical benefits of marijuana. More research was a recommendation of the 1999 Institute of Medicine report on medical marijuana, a report commissioned by the White House but never acted on.
An administrative law judge ruled two years ago that the federal monopoly on the cultivation of marijuana for research purposes has unnecessarily limited FDA-approved scientific studies, but the Drug Enforcement Administration rejected the judge's recommendations.
Senate Joint Resolution on medical marijuana
ASA fact sheet on SJR 14
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ASA Wins Landmark Calif. Ruling on Cultivation of Medical Marijuana
Appellate court protects patient collectives and affirms civil rights
A case Americans for Safe Access has been fighting for three years resulted last month in an appellate court ruling that protects California patients who grow marijuana collectively.
The California Third District Court of Appeal issued a 2-1 decision affirming a superior court ruling that state and local law enforcement must respect the right of medical marijuana patients to cultivate their medicine collectively.
The court also found that law enforcement must obtain a warrant to search a patient's property and seize any marijuana found there. The judges wrote that to rule otherwise would "surely shock the sensibilities of the voters" who approved the state's medical marijuana initiative in 1996.
"In addition to protecting patients' right to collectively cultivate, the Court has reaffirmed that medical marijuana patients enjoy the same constitutional rights as everyone else, including the ability to file civil rights actions when those rights are violated," said Joe Elford, ASA Chief Counsel and the attorney who litigated the case.
ASA took the case in 2006 after receiving repeated reports that Butte County law enforcement and other police agencies throughout the state were refusing to recognize the legitimacy of patient collectives.
The landmark appellate decision in County of Butte v. Superior Court concerns the 2005 warrant-less search of a patient's home in Paradise, California.
During the search, the Butte County Sheriff ordered the homeowner, David Williams, 56, to uproot more than two-dozen plants being grown for a small collective of seven medical marijuana patients. Though state law allows for collective cultivation, the sheriff told Williams it is not lawful to grow marijuana for multiple patients.
A superior court judge in Butte County ruled otherwise in 2007, saying medical marijuana patients "should not be required to risk criminal penalties and the stress and expense of a criminal trial in order to assert their rights."
The appeals court last month agreed, finding that patients have "the same constitutional guarantee of due process available to all individuals, no matter what their status, under the state Constitution." The appeals panel noted that "[t]he fact that this case involves medical marijuana and a qualified medical marijuana patient does not change these fundamental constitutional rights or an individual's right to assert them."
"This ruling by the California courts sends yet another strong message to state law enforcement that they must abide by the medical marijuana laws of the state and not the competing federal laws," said ASA's Elford.
Even the dissenting opinion in the case contained a plea for new federal law on medical marijuana. Court of Appeal Judge James Morrison wrote that, "[t]he United States Congress should reconsider its refusal to amend the federal drug laws to make reasonable accommodation for the 13 states that have enacted some form of compassionate use exception to their penal codes."
The ruling by the California Third District Court of Appeal
Information on ASA's work on the Butte Case
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Colorado Rejects Restrictions on Medical Cannabis Distribution
Grassroots Organizing Floods Hearing with Advocates
On July 20, patients and advocates convinced the Colorado Board of Health to reject a proposal that would have sharply restricted the ability of the state's citizens to access medical marijuana.
Nearly 1,000 medical cannabis patients and supporters -- including lawyers, doctors, care providers, veterans, and numerous health-care and religious organizations -- attended the 12-hour hearing, and nearly 200 supporters of safe access testified, thanks to months of coordinated efforts by Sensible Colorado, an ASA affiliate.
As a result, the Board of Health voted 5-4 to table a proposal that would have limited caregivers to assisting no more than five patients. The proposal would have also restricted who can qualify as a caregiver under Colorado law, requiring medical marijuana providers to assist patients in ways that would be impractical for many -- including providing patients with food, transportation, and housekeeping services.
When these changes were first proposed in January, Sensible Colorado mounted a grassroots campaign that delayed the hearing until July so patient advocates could organize a response. The successful outreach efforts among patients that ensured the large turnout at the hearing were just part of Sensible Colorado's campaign.
Director Brian Vicente also convinced such prominent state organizations as the Northern Colorado AIDS Project, the ACLU of Colorado and the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar to publicly oppose the changes, and he persuaded one of the state's Congressional delegation, Rep. Jared Polis, to write a personal letter of opposition to the board.
The success of Sensible Colorado's organizing paves the way for increased access to medical marijuana through safe and affordable distribution, an issue that many of the 13 states with medical cannabis laws are confronting.
With only one exception, state medical marijuana laws failed to address how qualified patients are to obtain their medicine. The legislatures of several states have now amended their laws to establish rules for centralized distribution of marijuana to patients.
In the past few years, California, Washington and Oregon have created provisions for regulating distribution. This year, both Maine and Rhode Island have taken up the issue, with Rhode Island changing its law in June to license three "Compassion Centers" to provide medical marijuana to patients. Voters in Maine will also have the chance to approve a ballot initiative in November that would implement a distribution mechanism for patients.
One state that has tried to deal with this issue from the beginning is New Mexico. When the legislature adopted a medical marijuana law in 2007, lawmakers not only established protections for patients who use medical marijuana, but directed state officials to find ways of distributing it. In March, the New Mexico Department of Health issued its first license for non-profit medical marijuana production.
Distribution questions are also shaping new medical marijuana laws coming before state legislatures. Lawmakers in New Jersey and Iowa have been debating measures that incorporate plans for distributing medical marijuana to patients, not just protect them from prosecution once they have it.
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