Medical Marijuana

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DEA Says it Has a Policy of Not Arresting Medical Marijuana Patients

Months ago, Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) sent a pointed inquiry to the DEA demanding an accounting of the costs and methodology behind the federal raids against medical marijuana dispensaries in California. DEA’s response (pdf) recently became available and contains some interesting information, including this:

DEA does not investigate or target individual "patients" who use cannabis, but instead the Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTOs) involved in marijuana trafficking.

Again, the agency does not target individual users who are
engaged in "simple possession" of the drug - even though they too are violating federal law and entitled to no immunity.

It’s not really news that DEA avoids arresting patients, but it’s remarkable to see it in writing. This serves to remind us that DEA in fact bears no legal obligation whatsoever to enforce federal marijuana laws in states that have approved medical use. The organization’s enforcement priorities with regards to medical marijuana are shaped by politics, not a sense of legal obligation, thus patients have been quietly left off the battlefield in recognition of the obscene PR fiasco that would result if they were visibly targeted. Keep this in mind if Obama’s pledge to end medical marijuana raids is met with resistance from anyone who claims that "federal law must be enforced."

DEA’s concession also helps to illuminate the complete incoherence of any argument that state-level marijuana reforms are rendered impotent in the face of incongruous federal drug laws. Such reforms have enormous practical value by dramatically reducing the threat of arrest and conviction under state laws, which have always been the only real threat facing individual users.

This acknowledgment should end debate over the importance of state-level marijuana reform.

Europe: Germany Opens Door to Medical Marijuana

Beginning this week, a handful of patients in Germany have approval to start receiving medical marijuana from a Belgian firm that produces it for the Dutch government's medical marijuana program. Belgian medical wholesaler Arsus NV, whose subsidiary Fagron Netherlands supplies medical marijuana in Holland, announced in a Monday press release that its Fagron Germany subsidiary has been granted an exclusive license to import and distribute medical marijuana in Germany.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/bfarmgebauderuckansicht.jpg
Germany's Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices, Bonn (courtesy Wikipedia)
Medical marijuana is not recognized by Germany's Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (Bundesinstitut für Arzneimittel und Medizinprodukte - BfArM), but the regulatory agency has allowed four patients to use marijuana since August 2007. Those exceptions came at the urging of doctors and only after it was established that no other treatments were effective.

Germany is now inching closer to full membership in the medical marijuana club, which is currently limited to a small number of countries, including Canada, Holland, and Israel. The US has its own federal medical marijuana program, but since access to it was cut off more than two decades ago, it will go extinct as soon as the last remaining patients receiving marijuana under it do.

On the other hand, the US is also home to the largest population on the planet living in jurisdictions where states have legalized medical marijuana. Roughly one-quarter of the US population lives in medical marijuana states. But they remain vulnerable to federal interference.

Africa: Debate Over Marijuana Legalization in Morocco Hits the Airwaves

Since at least the 15th Century, farmers in Morocco's Rif Mountains have been growing marijuana, which they typically process into hashish. For decades, Moroccan hash has been a mainstay of European marijuana markets. In recent years, production reached a peak of 135,000 hectares in 2003 before declining to about 60,000 hectares this year and last in the face of aggressive government efforts to eradicate crops and break up trafficking organizations.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/moroccohashish.jpg
Moroccan hashish field
But while the half-decade of harsh repression has led to ever-larger seizure numbers, it has also led to ever-larger arrest figures and stoked resentment in traditional marijuana growing regions. Efforts to reduce cultivation through alternative development programs have proven only partial successful, and now the debate over what to do about marijuana production has broken out into the public sphere.

On Wednesday, December 3, Moroccan Television's second station, 2M, broadcast a live debate on possible approaches to cannabis cultivation called "Cannabis and Hashish: What Approach To Take?" Participating in the discussion were Khalid Zerouali, executive director of migration and customs; Chakib Al Khayari, president of the Association for Human Rights in the Rif region, Professor Mohamed Hmamouchi, director of the National Institute of Medicinal Plants; Hamid El Farouki, director of development at the Agency for Promotion and Development of the Northern Region; and researcher Abderrahman Merzouki.

According to a report on the debate made available by the European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies (ENCOD), the panelists discussed three questions:

  • To what degree have alternative development projects been able to support the populations in replacing their illicit traditions?
  • Is it possible to direct the cultivation of cannabis towards therapeutic and industrial uses and, in a general way, towards an alternative economy in these regions?
  • What is the role of regional and international cooperation in this domain?

While government ministers Zerouli and El Farouki called eradication programs a success, citing a 55% reduction in cultivation since 2003, human rights advocate Al Khayari characterized that figure as "not realistic." He said new marijuana fields that had not been counted had sprung up in various regions. Merzouki supported this opinion, and denounced human rights violations against farmers whose fields were eradicated. The law enforcement approach should immediately be replaced by a social approach, he said.

Al Khayari added that alternative development projects tried for the past quarter-century have had some successes, but have not managed to blunt marijuana production. Part of the problem, he said, is that such products are limited. Another part of the problem was that the project designers and managers have not taken into consideration the economic problems and cultural traditions of marijuana cultivation areas.

According to Al Khayari, cannabis cultivation in the Rif predates the arrival of the Arabs. Even the porters of the Koran pray to Allah to protect their sacred plant, he noted.

Professor Hmamouchi insisted that lack of basic infrastructure in some producing regions, a result of the traditional marginalization of the Rif, were a fundamental impediment to alternative development programs. Hmamouchi proposed a larger investment in the National Initiative for Human Development to develop new projects that could help the producing regions.

As the debate wound down, human rights advocate Al Khayari proposed legalizing marijuana as the only practical solution for the traditional producing regions, a view that was seconded by Hmamouchi. Legalization should come within a framework that would regulate cultivation and allow for medicinal and industrial (hemp) cultivation, said Al Khayari.

Even Customs Minister Zerouli agreed that it was a provocative idea for the historical producing regions. He said he would discuss the notion in a more profound way with the participation of civil society as a means of reducing illicit drug trafficking.

Meanwhile, cultivation continues, as do eradication and arrests. And some 800,000 Moroccans derive at least part of their income from it.

OH_MMJ_NEWS: Ohio Patient Network News - November 2008

1) Ohio Medical Marijuana Hearing 2) Annual Meeting & Board Election 3) Write a letter to your State Representative Supporting Medical Marijuana 4) Ohio Medical Compassion Act Summary 5) Ohio Medical Marijuana Posters & Road Signs 6) Support Ohio Medical Marijuana Patients 7) Letter to the editor from OPN/OPAN President 8) Help Wanted Webmaster =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- 1) Ohio Medical Marijuana Hearing Report - November 19, 2008 On 11/19/08 the Ohio Medical Compassion Act SB343 was heard in the Ohio State Senate Judicary Committee. Ohio Patient's arranged for Doctor Richard Wyderski MD (Dayton,Ohio) and Mary Lynn Mathre RN from the Patients out of time to provide expert testimony in support of SB 343. The reaction of the panel was encouraging, very encouraging. Doctor Wyderski gave surprisingly good testimony and was able to connect with the panel. Mary Lynn Mathre answered some very interesting questions from the panel about the Federal Government supplying marijuana and even an unrelated hemp question which chairman Grendell weighed in on with his own knowledge of hemp from his days in the Navy. Please see the TV news story on the following link with Senator Tom Roberts and Tonya Davis. Davis was a key person in getting State Senator Tom Roberts to introduce SB343.. http://www.nbc4i.com/midwest/cmh/news.apx.-content-articles-CMH-2008-11-... On the radio dial Ohio's WCRN 90.3FM, Columbus's NPR affiliate, Bill Cohen reported with a surprising clip of Law and Order Republican Senator Seitz supporting the bill. http://www.wcpn.org/index.php/WCPN/news/15365/ Also the Legislative Gongwer Report November 19, 2008 on the Medical Marijuana Hearing had the following report. === Sen. Roberts said in sponsor testimony the "Ohio Medical Compassion Act" would allow for the medicinal use of cannabis by qualified patients through a regulated system. He said research has discovered beneficial uses for marijuana in treating pain, nausea, and other symptoms associated with a variety of debilitating conditions. The bill provides for issuing registry identification cards to qualified patients. Those with cards would not be subject to arrest or prosecution in any manner for medical use of marijuana. "Law enforcement will be required to verify whether a person is a registered patient before any arrest, raid or other action is initiated," he said. Sen. Roberts said the legislation is critical because of a lack of alternatives that are available to patients. "They should not be forced to choose between living a normal life and living in pain," he said. Sen. Seitz said he was concerned that Ohio patients still could be prosecuted under federal marijuana laws. Sen. Roberts said federal intervention over medical marijuana has occurred only in California, and that was because the state law allowed storefront purchases. Richard Wyderski, MD, said marijuana has been used for centuries as a medicinal plant. "For decades the medicinal use of marijuana has been politically demonized as a substance without benefit that confers significant harm despite a growing body of scientific evidence to the contrary," he said. Dr. Wyderski said the bill would allow patients to grow their own plants, preventing them from buying marijuana that may contain dangerous addictive substances. "(The) scientific evidence is strongly in favor of the medicinal use of marijuana and such use has been endorsed by a number of professional medical organizations," he said. Mary Lynn Mathre, a registered nurse who co-founded a non-profit that supports use of medical marijuana, said 14 states already have such laws. The latest was enacted in the Nov. 4 election with 63% approval of an initiative in Michigan. Ms. Mathre said that while cannabis is not a cure all, there is no doubt about its efficacy as medicine. "The Ohio Medical Compassion Act will be a first step in helping patients gain much needed relief from suffering by allowing them legal access to a remarkably safe medicine and opening up the dialogue and ongoing medical evaluation with their primary care provider," she said. The news stories above are all very encouraging, now we need you to follow up and contact your state representative and let them know to support medical marijuana here in Ohio. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=--=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- 2) Annual Meeting & Board Election Every year the Ohio Patient Network organizations, OPN & OPAN holds their annual meeting in the fall. This years meeting was held on Saturday, November 15th 2008 in Columbus. At the Annual Meeting the Senate judicial hearing was discussed,plans for more public support and the election of officers for 2008-2009. Please see the article for more information on the hearing and the above article on posters and signs that you can download and make your area more aware of medical marijuana here in Ohio. The newly elected board members for OPN, the 501-C3 arm of Ohio Patients, are John Precup (Vice President), James Cowen (Treasurer), and Dawn Dunlap (Secretary). The newly elected board members for OPAN, the 501-C4 arm of Ohio Patients are Jayson Jones (Vice President), Eleanor Ahrens (Treasurer), Cher Neufer (Secretary), and Dennis Day (Legal Advisor). Robert Ryan was elected to President of both organizations. Please support OPN and these volunteers in making medical marijuana a reality here in Ohio. Contact us via 888-647-2843 or secretary@ohiopatientaction.org if you want to get involved. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=--=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- 3) Write a letter to your State Representative Please write a letter to your representative and hear that you support medical marijuana. The next link will identify your State Senator. All you have to do is add your zip code to the following link. http://www.senate.state.oh.us/senators/SenateZipSearch.html For those interested in details of the bill please follow the following link. http://www.legislature.state.oh.us/bills.cfm?ID=127_SB_343. Legislation is difficult language to read, so note the underlined section represent new Ohio law that we are trying to pass. Every day we need to have someone call their Senator or State Rep in support of this Bill. Please become active in helping to educate and pass the word around about this bill and join OPN in this effort. The next link is to a pamphlet we hope you download and distribute in your own circle of friends. http://ohiopatientaction.org/images/PDF/OPN_Fyer.pdf. We can make one for your local area, for instance if you live in the Greater Cincinnati area use http://ohiopatientaction.org/images/PDF/OPN_Cinci_Flyer.pdf. Please feel free to download, print and distribute this materials. Please contact us if you want a pamphlet for your local area. (See http://ohiopatientaction.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=3... for more details) =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=--=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- 4) Ohio Medical Compassion Act Summary *Defines the legitimate medical use of cannabis (aka marihuana) *Protects patients from arrest and allows law enforcement to easily identify legitimate patients *Protects primary caregivers of patients from arrest and prison *Provides patients a legal means of obtaining and using cannabis *Creates protections beyond arrest and prison for patients, caregivers, and physicians *Allows patients/caregivers to talk about medical use in court if arrested *Establishes government control mechanism *Establishes sensible restrictions on medical cannabis use *Does not require physicians to violate federal law See (http://ohiopatientaction.org/content/view/81/28/ for more details) =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- 5) Medical Marijuana Posters & Road Sign Making Event Senate Bill 343, Ohio's medical marijuana bill needs your help. Below are two links to poster that we need you to print and post in public places. The first poster is an 8.5 x 11, even better is a 8.5 x 14 inch. Please print and post as many as you can. Your neighborhood stores make a great place to remind our politicians that Ohioans supports Medical Marijuana. SB343 Poster Letter Size and SB343 Poster 8.5 x 14 Size http://www.ohiopatientaction.org/images/PDF/SB343_Poster_v1a_letter.pdf http://www.ohiopatientaction.org/images/PDF/SB343_Poster_v1a_Large_85_14... Contact us at 888-647-2843 or by emailing secretary@ohiopationaction.org, if you want to join us for a Road Sign making party on December 7th. Here is an example of one of the signs, Help us with your time and/or your financial support (via the donate button) to make more Medical marijuana support road signs. http://www.ohiopatientaction.org/images/banners/Road_MMJ_Sign.jpg ( See http://ohiopatientaction.org/content/view/80/1/ ) =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=--=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- 6) Support Ohio Medical Marijuana Patients We need your support! Please consider a donation to help us pass a medical marijuana law. Please make a donation to Ohio Patient Action Network or via the web at www.ohiopatientaction.org. If you want a tax deductible receipt please circle ( Yes / No ) and fill out below for your receipt and mail to secretary@ohiopatientaction.org or the address below. Name_____________________ Address___________________ City___________State______ Zip________ Tele _ _ _- _ _ _- _ _ _ Email____________________ If not using the PAYPAL link on please mail your donation to Ohio Patient Network 1620 E. Broad Street Suite 1603 Columbus, Ohio, 43203 Thank You. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=--=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- 7) Letter to the editor from OPN/OPAN's President Below is a letter sent to the editors of numerous Ohio Newspapers. Please send your own letter to the editor of your local paper. Please feel free to copy a portion of the letter below, but make sure to add your own thoughts. -=-=- Dear Editor, Medical marijuana has been a clear winner in recent political, medical, and legal events. The recent election was no different than past Presidential elections. Medical marijuana has won more votes and with a higher percentage than any of the previous presidential candidates such as Clinton, Dole, Gore, Kerry, Bush, McCain, and now Obama in Michigan. Medical marijuana has also won the support of numerous medical organizations such as the American College of Physicians, American Nurses Association, and many other medical associations and groups. Even the "wild" west of California has been tamed with their recent State Supreme Court and Attorney General decisions concerning medical marijuana. Note that the U.S. Supreme Court says doctors can recommend medical marijuana without fear for their livelihood. Federal law classifies marijuana as deadly, addictive and with no medical use. It is time for both Democrats and Republicans to end this modern Reefer Madness. Thankfully the Ohio State Senate is considering SB343 a medical compassion bill so Ohioans who benefit from the therapeutic cannabis (AKA marihuana) do not have to live in fear of their government. Rob Robert Ryan, President Ohio Patient Network 1620 E. Broad St, Suite 1603 Columbus, Ohio, 43203 www.ohiopatientaction.org rryan@ohiopatientaction.org Tele-888-385-2843 =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=--=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- 8) Help Wanted Webmaster Ohio Patient Network Website will be moving and we need a volunteer to help with our new website. If you are skilled in Joomla websites please contact the current webmaster at webmaster@ohiopatientaction.org. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=--=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- Best wishes to everyone for a happy and safe holiday from us here at Ohio Patient Network
Location: 
OH
United States

Medical Marijuana Comedy Show ExtravaGANJA

It’s another Medical Marijuana Comedy Show ExtravaGANJA !! Global Comedy Superstar Russell Peters will be headlining this event. LOS ANGELES, CA – Remember this date!! Sunday, December 14, 2008. You really want to be in the Main Room at the world famous Comedy Store in Hollywood, 8433 Sunset Blvd., 90069. No kidding! This show, to benefit Marijuana Policy Project (mpp.org) and Americans for Safe Access (safeaccessnow.org), will feature the comedic talents of Russell Peters (RussellPeters.com), Jason Rouse (JasonRouse.com) and some very special guests. Opening the show is Mark ‘BigToeRocks.com’ Goffeney. Don’t miss this Emmy nominated, unique and wonderful talent. Show time is 9:00 pm. Doors open at 8:30 pm. Tickets are only $20 w/ a $5 discount for members of compassion clubs, MPP.org, SafeAccessNow.org (Americans for Safe Access) & CannabisSavesLives.com (Patient Advocacy Network). Tickets are available at your local compassion club, through MPP, ASA and CSL, at Mike’s Smoke Shop & Hookah Lounge (6624 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.) or at the door. This is a 21+ event with a 2 drink minimum. GreenTherapy's aim is to raise awareness of the benefits of medical marijuana and to help bring patients some relief by giving them a laugh or two through comedy show ExtravaGANJA's. Learn more at HowardDover.com MPP and MPP Foundation believe that the greatest harm associated with marijuana is imprisonment. Therefore, MPP and MPP Foundation are working to change U.S. policies to remove criminal penalties for marijuana use, with a particular emphasis on making marijuana medically available to seriously ill people who have the approval of their physicians. Americans for Safe Access is the nation’s largest organization of patients, medical professionals, scientists and concerned citizens promoting safe and legal access to cannabis for therapeutic use and research. "Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known. It would be unreasonable, arbitrary, and capricious for the DEA to continue to stand between those sufferers and the benefits of the substance." -- Francis L. Young, DEA Chief Administrative Law Judge, 1988 Here’s what you missed at a recent ExtravaGANJA… http://youtube.com/watch?v=LeBPXMnFFpQ Learn a little about Eddy Lepp and his situation as he’s interviewed by Howard Dover. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1-bD9B5XabM
Location: 
Los Angeles, CA
United States

Medical Marijuana Comedy Show ExtravaGANJA

It’s another Medical Marijuana Comedy Show ExtravaGANJA !! Global Comedy Superstar Russell Peters will be headlining this event. This show, to benefit Marijuana Policy Project (mpp.org) and Americans for Safe Access (safeaccessnow.org), will feature the comedic talents of Russell Peters (RussellPeters.com), Jason Rouse (JasonRouse.com) and some very special guests. Opening the show is Mark ‘BigToeRocks.com’ Goffeney. Don’t miss this Emmy nominated, unique and wonderful talent. Show time is 9:00 pm. Doors open at 8:30 pm. Tickets are only $20 w/ a $5 discount for members of compassion clubs, MPP.org, SafeAccessNow.org (Americans for Safe Access) & CannabisSavesLives.com (Patient Advocacy Network). Tickets are available at your local compassion club, through MPP, ASA and CSL, at Mike’s Smoke Shop & Hookah Lounge (6624 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.) or at the door. This is a 21+ event with a 2 drink minimum. GreenTherapy's aim is to raise awareness of the benefits of medical marijuana and to help bring patients some relief by giving them a laugh or two through comedy show ExtravaGANJA's. Learn more at HowardDover.com MPP and MPP Foundation believe that the greatest harm associated with marijuana is imprisonment. Therefore, MPP and MPP Foundation are working to change U.S. policies to remove criminal penalties for marijuana use, with a particular emphasis on making marijuana medically available to seriously ill people who have the approval of their physicians. Americans for Safe Access is the nation’s largest organization of patients, medical professionals, scientists and concerned citizens promoting safe and legal access to cannabis for therapeutic use and research. "Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known. It would be unreasonable, arbitrary, and capricious for the DEA to continue to stand between those sufferers and the benefits of the substance." -- Francis L. Young, DEA Chief Administrative Law Judge, 1988 Here’s what you missed at a recent ExtravaGANJA… http://youtube.com/watch?v=LeBPXMnFFpQ Learn a little about Eddy Lepp and his situation as he’s interviewed by Howard Dover. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1-bD9B5XabM
Date: 
Sun, 12/14/2008 - 9:00pm
Location: 
8433 Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90069
United States

Medical Marijuana: US Supreme Court Declines to Hear Challenge to Appeals Court Ruling Protecting State Medical Marijuana Laws

The US Supreme Court Monday declined to review a lower court decision that ordered Garden Grove, California, police to return marijuana seized from a medical marijuana patient. In November 2007, the California Fourth District Court of Appeal had ordered the marijuana returned, finding that "it is not the job of local police to enforce federal drug laws."

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US Supreme Court
The case was that of Felix Kha, who was pulled over by Garden Grove police in 2005 and cited for marijuana possession despite showing officers his medical marijuana documentation. The possession case against Kha was subsequently dismissed, and the Orange County Superior Court ordered the police to return Kha's wrongfully seized quarter-ounce of marijuana. Police and the city of Garden Grove refused to return the pot, and appealed the ruling, but lost in the state appeals court last year.

The California Supreme Court refused to review the case in March. Now, the US Supreme Court has followed suit. The refusals to hear the appeal means the two high courts have accepted the state appeals court's reasoning that California's medical marijuana law is not preempted by federal law, said medical marijuana advocates.

"It's now settled that state law enforcement officers cannot arrest medical marijuana patients or seize their medicine simply because they prefer the contrary federal law," said Joe Elford, chief counsel with Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the medical marijuana advocacy organization that represented Kha. "Perhaps, in the future local government will think twice about expending significant time and resources to defy a law that is overwhelmingly supported by the people of our state."

But Lois Bobak, a private attorney whose firm represents the city on a contract basis, said the issue in the case was a narrow one. "The US Supreme Court didn't issue any kind of ruling, it just failed to review a lower-court decision," Bobak told NBC Los Angeles. "You can't read too much into that fact. The city felt it was important to pursue the legal principle that police shouldn't be put in a position of returning a substance that is contraband under federal law."

It's federal law that needs to change, said ASA spokesman Kris Hermes. "The source of local law enforcement's resistance to upholding state law is an outdated, harmful federal policy with regard to medical marijuana," he said. "This should send a message to the federal government that it's time to establish a compassionate policy more consistent with the 13 states that have adopted medical marijuana laws."

Feature: South Dakota Medical Marijuana Backers Take Aim at the Statehouse

In 2006, South Dakota gained the dubious distinction of being the only state to defeat an initiative that would have legalized the medicinal use of marijuana. That effort failed narrowly, garnering 48% of the popular vote. But now, South Dakota marijuana reform activists are back, and they are hoping to move a bill through the state legislature in the session beginning next month.

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South Dakota badlands
According to Bob Newland, spokesman for South Dakotans for Safe Access, a proposed bill that would allow qualifying patients to cultivate, possess, and use medical marijuana has been drafted, and the hunt is on for sponsors. The legislative session begins next month, and any bill to be considered must be introduced by early February.

Newland said the group is also considering other legislation, including a bill to reschedule marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule IV and a bill that would allow an affirmative defense for medical marijuana patients.

"Everything is moving much faster than we thought it would," said Newland. "We've lined up a couple of stellar medical witnesses and may get a couple more, and I think we have a good doctor lined up, too. There has been lots of email and phone support in the couple of weeks since we announced we were moving ahead, and lots of donations, too. Now, we need to find sponsors."

Newland said he was working on that this week, holding meetings in the state capital, Pierre, on Thursday and talking to Democratic Party members in Sioux Falls, the state's largest city, today.

A change in the state's approach to medical marijuana couldn't come early enough for patients. Not only does South Dakota not recognize medical marijuana, it is a state where people actually go to jail for simple possession -- and to prison for growing even a pair of plants.

"We absolutely need a medical marijuana law, and not just for AIDS patients, but for cancer, glaucoma, you name it," said Western South Dakota rancher Tom Faltynowicz, an AIDS sufferer. "It would make a huge difference not having to worry about being busted for something that's keeping me alive. The law needs to change."

Faltynowicz speaks from personal experience. While he has being using medical marijuana with his doctor's knowledge and approval for nearly 20 years, that didn't stop him from being arrested and prosecuted for growing his own medicine. Earlier this year, Faltynowicz pleaded guilty to possession of more than two ounces but less than a pound of marijuana, a felony under South Dakota law.

Fortunately for him, and thanks to letter-writing efforts to his sentencing judge, Faltynowicz was sentenced only to probation, including drug testing, and was specifically allowed to use Marinol during his probation. (Since drug tests only detect the presence of THC, they cannot distinguish between Marinol and marijuana.)

"We need it as much as ever, not only for the people suffering within the state, but to show the rest of America that a red state like South Dakota can accept this," said medical marijuana patient Valerie Hannah, who served as a spokesperson for the 2006 initiative. "If someplace like South Dakota can pass medical marijuana legislation, that should be a huge wakeup call for the federal government to stop prosecuting patients as criminals," she said.

But it won't be easy. Republicans dominate both houses of the state legislature, where earlier bills went nowhere. The Republican attorney general, Larry Long, spearheaded law enforcement opposition to the 2006 initiative and appears ready to reprise that role in the coming months.

"Long had some complaints about the wording of the 2006 initiative," said Newland. "I am telling Long that South Dakotans for Safe Access is willing to work with the attorney general's office in drafting a law all of us can live with."

According to his spokesperson, Sara Rabern, Long remains opposed to medical marijuana. "His stance is still the same," she said Thursday. Long was traveling, and Rabern did not know whether he would be amenable to working with the bill's sponsors to address law enforcement concerns.

"It will be an uphill battle in the legislature," Hannah predicted. "We need someone with clout to carry our message in Pierre, and we need to get some real grassroots support going," Hannah said. "I fear they will throw it out again, but if we can get out of committee and make it to a floor vote, that would be real progress."

Another key constituency in medical marijuana battles is the medical profession. In several states that have had successful medical marijuana campaigns, state nursing and/or medical associations have publicly supported the therapeutic use of marijuana. That's not the case in South Dakota.

"We haven't looked at this issue for awhile," said Brittany Novotny, head of the South Dakota Nurses Association. "We do not take a formal stance for or against. If this comes up in the next session, our government relations committee will have to decide whether this is a fight we want to be part of or not."

The South Dakota State Medical Association did not return calls seeking comment.

One factor that may be working in favor of the legislation is the closeness of the 2006 vote, which demonstrated significant, if not quite majority support for medical marijuana, and the threat of another effort to go direct to the voters in 2010. "Maybe the fear of leaving this to the people will prod them into action," said Hannah. "One of the big concerns here is how this will affect illegal drug use in South Dakota, but if crafted correctly, the bill could be a boon to law enforcement. If they are willing to sit down and work with us, we could come up with a bill that could address their concerns."

Newland said he is hard at work on endorsements from medical professionals, as well as working with some churches to garner support. While the effort faces long odds, Newland remains optimistic. "The last time we went to the legislature, we didn't have 48% of the people voting for medical marijuana two years earlier. We had always bargained from a position of weakness, but now we have a club to carry into the hearing rooms."

D.C. Pays Dearly After Letting a Medical Marijuana Patient Die in Jail

As a toddler, Jonathan Magbie was struck by a drunk driver. He survived for 23 years, paralyzed from the neck down, until one day he was arrested for using medical marijuana to treat his pain. Magbie died in jail four days later.

This week, Magbie’s family settled a wrongful death suit, bringing this unfathomable tragedy back into the spotlight:

Attorneys for his mother, Mary R. Scott, declined to provide details of the financial settlement, which she reached with the city, private contractors and the insurance company that covered doctors at the hospital. The American Civil Liberties Union, which represented Scott, called the settlement "substantial" in a news release.

Magbie's mother was furious that the judge did not give her son probation, the typical punishment for first-time offenders. Magbie, paralyzed since being hit by a drunk driver at age 4, had no criminal record. Retchin told a judicial commission that she sentenced Magbie to jail because he said he would continue to smoke marijuana to alleviate his pain. [Washington Post]

He was literally singled out for using medical marijuana and being honest about the fact that his condition required continued use. Anyone still struggling to understand the persecution of patients in the war on medical marijuana need look no further than this.

And, as Dan Bernath at MPP points out, voters in Washington, D.C. overwhelmingly passed a law back in 1998 to protect patients like Jonathan from arrest. If Congressional drug warriors hadn’t continually blocked the implementation of D.C.’s medical marijuana law, Magbie would probably never have been arrested, never died in jail, and D.C. taxpayers wouldn’t have to foot the bill for the mindblowing callousness and incompetence that took his life.

Medical Marijuana Debate: MPP vs. ONDCP

This evening, Georgetown Law School’s chapter of SSDP hosted a debate on medical marijuana between MPP’s Assistant Communications Director Dan Bernath and ONDCP’s Chief Counsel Ed Jurith. Since the drug czar’s minions seldom subject themselves to public scrutiny, and only do so in D.C., it was my duty to document the dialogue.    

Bernath began with a reference to the recent discovery of a 2,700-year-old marijuana stash in the tomb of a Chinese shaman, establishing the extensive history of the medical use of marijuana. He described the dimensions of the current medical marijuana debate, including the support of the medical community, the benefits for a growing population of users, and the evolution of public opinion in support of protecting patients through ballot initiatives and state legislatures.

Jurith framed his argument from a legal perspective, providing a chronology of caselaw upholding federal authority to enforce marijuana and other drug laws. He emphasized the FDA approval process, insisting that reformers seek to bypass the traditional pathways through which medicines are deemed safe and effective. He focused heavily on dismissing the notion of a "fundamental right" to use medical marijuana, although Bernath hadn’t presented his position in those terms.

As the discussion proceeded, I was struck by Jurith’s continued preference for defending the legality rather than the efficacy of the federal war on marijuana. He just wouldn’t go there. In Q&A, I pointed out that the Raich ruling certainly doesn’t mandate a campaign against medical marijuana providers and that DEA demonstrates their discretion every day by declining to prosecute the majority of dispensary operators. Will he defend the raids in a practical sense? What determines who gets raided and who doesn’t? He responded with the notorious Scott Imler quote about medical marijuana profiteers, but never really answered the question.

So basically, the head lawyer at the drug czar’s office came forward to assure us that what they’re doing is technically legal, while failing in large part to actually help us understand why they do it. In turn, Bernath easily and convincingly depicted how ONDCP’s role in the medical marijuana debate consists entirely of opposing/interfering with state level reforms and blocking the exact research they claim is necessary.

I’d like to think that Jurith’s one dimensional presentation is indicative of the shrinking box from which his office draws its talking points on medical marijuana. Is the growing body of medical research and the solidification of popular support beginning to suck wind from the pipeholes of the proud protagonists in the war on pot? Jurith never compared marijuana to hard drugs, never employed the formerly obligatory "Trojan-horse-to-legalization" line, and generally declined to completely lie his face off when cornered. Maybe he’s just nicer than, say, this guy. But it’s also true that ONDCP as we know it is about to be dismantled and it may be that nobody over there currently gives a crap if the mild-mannered Ed Jurith is kind enough to put himself on the spot for the educational benefit of some law students.

Either way, by ONDCP standards, this was a fairly defanged defense of the war on medical marijuana. Jurith is absolutely correct that the federal government maintains considerable authority over the enforcement of our drug laws and it will be fascinating to see what happens when that power changes hands.

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