Medical Marijuana

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New Hampshire Senate Votes to Legalize Medical Marijuana

Good news from New Hampshire:

CONCORD, N.H.—The state Senate has joined the House in endorsing medicinal marijuana use by residents with crippling ailments.

The 14-10 Senate vote Wednesday sent the bill back to the House to review relatively minor changes. If the House endorses the changes and Gov. John Lynch signs the bill, New Hampshire would be the 14th state to legalize medicinal marijuana. [Boston Globe]

It looks like this will get through the House, but I don't know anything about Gov. Lynch's intentions. Click here to contact him.

Minnesota Senate Votes to Legalize Medical Marijuana

Good news from Minnesota:

After a debate pitting compassion for those suffering from the pain of cancer or HIV-AIDS against concerns about abuse and violence from expanded availability of a "gateway drug," the Minnesota Senate gave tentative approval Wednesday to the use of marijuana for medical purposes in the state.

The 36-28 vote came despite questions about whether the measure fully defines who would be eligible and whether it provides proper safeguards against potential abuse. [Star-Tribune]

The bill could still get blocked in the House and a veto from Gov. Pawlenty is a definite possibility. If you're in Minnesota, click here to contact your legislators in support of medical marijuana.

The Federal Government Grows Some of the Worst Marijuana in America

This story from FOX Memphis provides a rare glimpse into the federal government's massive marijuana grow-op:

My favorite part is when Dr. Mahmoud Elsohly boasts about the high quality of the government pot he grows, then proceeds to demonstrate by sticking his hand in a barrel of disgusting brown schwag. It's all ground up, and you can see the stems sticking out. Anyone can plainly see that the government's weed just sucks.

I also noticed how the FOX story explained that the marijuana is used for research purposes, but conveniently left out the fact that the government actually provides medical marijuana to a small group of patients, while simultaneously prohibiting medical marijuana under federal law. I guess that contradiction was too much for a local FOX affiliate to explore in a fluffy pot-porn segment. Or, more likely, Dr. Elsohly never mentioned it to the reporter.

Given the popular urban myth that government-grown marijuana is super-potent, it's amusing to consider how stunningly bad it actually is. Ironies aside, however, it's actually a serious problem that these guys don't know what they're doing. They won't make any of their product available to researchers seeking to make marijuana an FDA-approved medication, and even if researchers gained access, the material is so weak that you couldn't do much with it.

Someone else needs to be growing marijuana for research purposes, but the DEA won't allow it because they're afraid of what the research will show. Our friends at MAPS and ACLU have spent years in court trying to gain approval for one well-qualified scientist to grow research-grade marijuana, and they've been blocked at every turn. Unless the Obama Administration intervenes before May 1, the DEA's Final Order will take effect and the effort to establish an independent source of research-grade marijuana will return to square one.

Click here to encourage Obama to support science over politics by allowing independent marijuana cultivation for research purposes.

Medical Marijuana: Maine Legislature Punts, Bill Will Go Before Voters in November

Maine voters passed a medical marijuana law a decade ago, but it has proven largely unworkable. Now, after the legislature failed to act on a citizen petition to fix it, voters will get a chance to fix it themselves in November.
California medical marijuana bags (courtesy Daniel Argo via Wikimedia)
Maine Citizens for Patient Rights began a petition drive in November 2007 to update the state's medical marijuana law with a bill presented to the legislature. The group gathered far more than the 55,000 valid signatures needed. Under Maine law, if the legislature does not act, the measure goes before the voters.

According to the bill summary, the bill: "Directs the Department of Health and Human Services to issue registry identification cards to patients who qualify to possess marijuana for medical use and to their designated primary caregivers. It sets limits on the amount of marijuana that may be possessed by qualifying patients and their designated primary caregivers. It allows the establishment of nonprofit dispensaries to provide marijuana to qualifying patients and directs the Department of Health and Human Services to issue a registration certificate to a nonprofit dispensary that meets certain criteria. It directs the Department of Health and Human Services to establish application and renewal fees sufficient to pay the expenses of implementing and administering the provisions of the initiated bill."

Maine's current medical marijuana law only allows patients to possess up to 2 1/2 ounces and grow six plants. That isn't working, said proponents.

"The reality is that patients are not equipped to do that," the group's Jonathan Leavitt told the legislature's Health and Human Services Committee Monday. "And landlords and people that own property are hesitant because of the law enforcement issues to allow that. So essentially, people access it through the black market. There is essentially no legal way to buy it," he said.

During the Monday hearing, the bill was opposed by the usual suspects in law enforcement and the medical establishment. That may have been enough to scare off legislators, but Maine voters demonstrated a decade ago they were willing to embrace the medicinal use of marijuana. Now, they will have the chance to do so again.

Feature: 4/20 -- A Day for Celebration or a Day for Remonstration?

Over the past three decades, 4/20 has crept -- and then leapt -- into the public consciousness as the unofficial National Marijuana Day. While the origins and significance of 4/20 as a marijuana holiday are the subject of contention, the most commonly accepted version is the one enunciated by High Times editor Steve Hager. (See explanatory YouTube video here.) Hager explains that 4/20 began in 1971 as the code for a small group of San Rafael High School pot smokers who would gather after school at 4:20 to indulge in their vice.
student activist flyering during 2007 4/20 rally in Toledo, Ohio
Since then, 4/20 has mushroomed, embraced by countless marijuana enthusiasts as their special time of day, or, in the case of April 20, day of the year. What began as private celebrations of stoner togetherness have now morphed into sometimes massive public events hailing the herb, not to mention a whole industry of 4/20 paraphernalia makers and sellers. This year, as the topic of marijuana and marijuana law reform grows white hot (look for an article on that here next week), 4/20 celebrations garnered increased attendance and increased media attention. This year's 4/20 was probably the most recognized yet, with thousands of people gathering at places like the University of Colorado in Boulder and the University of California at Santa Cruz to celebrate the weed and to express that celebration by publicly toking up in massive numbers.

But it wasn't just Boulder and Santa Cruz. 4/20 events took place across the land, with several thousand people gathering in Denver and another large crowd in San Francisco. In New York City, High Times threw in a party. In Oakland, medical marijuana advocates used the occasion to conduct a fundraiser. In Memphis, hundreds participated. In Saratoga Springs, New York, about 100 Skidmore College students celebrated. Similar accounts can be heard from campuses and communities across the land.

"It's a time for us to celebrate our pastime, I guess you could call it, or adult substance of choice," Richard Lee, president of Oaksterdam University, an Oakland trade school for cannabis club workers told the Associated Press. "It's like St. Patrick's Day is for drinkers."

It wasn't just pot heads acknowledging 4/20. The cable TV network G4 ran marijuana-friendly programming all day. The cable TV network Showtime used 4/20 to send out a mass email promoting its hit series "Weeds." 4/20 seems to have come into its own.

But while 4/20 is proving wildly popular with Cannabis Nation and enterprising entrepreneurs, it is not without its critics, and some of the themes they hit will be familiar to anyone who has followed movement debates about strategy and tactics. Does the spectacle of mass drug-taking and law-breaking help the movement? Malakkar Vorhyzek doesn't think so.

Vohryzek, the New York office coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance, attacked the 4/20 celebrations in a same day blog post, In Opposition of 4/20 on 4/20. "How does it look, this annual celebration? Juvenile. Like our opponents to sensible drug policy have more sense than us. They celebrate their victories in real terms with a frame that makes it look like they're actually accomplishing something (when in fact, prohibition has failed by all measures). Their markers lead to more funding, more acceptance in political circles, more acceptance as an appropriate way to handle drugs in our society. The 4/20 celebrations, on the other hand, look imbecilic. Despite the miserable failure to radically alter the drug policy landscape, despite the hundreds of thousands of ruined lives from cannabis prohibition, these celebrations make those who appreciate or need cannabis look like people who are just happy to party," he continued.

While Vohryzek took pains to make it clear he supported ending drug prohibition, until the cannabis prisoners are freed, he said, "4/20 partying can go to hell." Instead of celebrating, Cannabis Nation should spend 4/20 "protesting the senseless policy of cannabis prohibition -- demanding amnesty, clemency and/or pardon to all cannabis 'offenders.' Once we achieve something like that, then celebrate."

"The 4/20 celebrations feed into a stoner stereotype that actually hurts us," said Vohryzek Wednesday, pointing to the inevitable front-page newspaper photos of very young people smoking pot in public. "Even when I was in the middle of my drug career, I didn't publicly celebrate it," said Vohryzek, whose drug career ended after he was sent to prison on LSD charges.

As a former drug war prisoner, said Vorhyzek, "I find it offensive that people are so set on celebration without paying any attention to all those people behind bars. I'm offended that people are celebrating while prohibition is still in place. What do you think people in prison or treatment think watching these events? We need to combine these 4/20 events with protests to say we won't celebrate while there are still people in jail."

Vohryzek also criticized the 4/20 events as "privileged" and "sending the wrong message." "We shouldn't be encouraging drug use of any kind," he said. "You don't have national meth snorting day. There is also a racial dynamic. Smoking marijuana is protected by privilege, whether it's skin color or a certain amount of money in the bank, so there is a sort of discriminatory aspect to it. You don't have 4/20 in the hood because the cops would be cracking down. 4/20 happens in white suburbs or college campuses, where privilege protects the participants," he said.

Bruce Mirken is communications director for the besuited Marijuana Policy Project. "We don't do 4/20 parties because we think there is a lot of value in letting people see the non-stereotypical side of our movement," he said. "I still have to handle way too many pot and stoner jokes."

Still, said Mirken, there is room in the big tent for everybody. "We are a large and mixed movement, and becoming larger every day as people come out of the closet. That's a healthy thing. I have a long history in other movements where there have been similar debates, and I've always been resistant to trying to censor anybody. I think we should let the world see the multitudes of folks who either use marijuana or think the laws need to be changed, but at the same time, if you're going to a public event, it wouldn't hurt to think about the possibility you'll end up on the evening news. Are you going to show up in a way that helps people understand and advance the issue or not?"

Colorado-based activist Mason Tvert of SAFER said his attitude toward 4/20 events was changing. "I've long held that these things aren't necessarily helpful," he said. "They may be counterproductive in terms of media coverage; in many cases, they send the message that marijuana smokers are irresponsible, that they're openly breaking the law."

But the event in Denver this week and the attention it garnered signals a change, he said. "I've had a shift in my attitude that I think reflects a shift in public attitude," Tvert said. "The headline in the Denver Post was 'Peaceful Pot Party at Civic Center,' and I was quoted about police just standing around with nothing to do. No incidents, no arrests, no injuries. If those cops were at a University of Colorado football game with all the drinking, they'd be in riot gear."

Tvert took issue with Vohryzek's characterization of 4/20 participants as "privileged." "Here in Denver, the majority of people out there were black and Hispanic youth, not upper class white kids at all. That skin privilege argument just wasn't the case at all in Denver."

There is also a certain hypocrisy about getting upset over people using marijuana in public, said Tvert. "This may not be the best image for our cause, but keep in mind there are public drinking events all the time and keep in mind that 4/20 is safer than any alcohol-fueled sporting event or party. We have to highlight the positive, safe, peaceful side of these events. Just compare Hemp Fest with Mardi Gras."

Even if movement leaders in all their wisdom decided that events like 4/20 are bad for the movement, they're not going away, said Tvert. "Here in Denver, people have been gathering to celebrate 4/20 for years. They're going to happen whether SAFER or DPA or MPP likes it or not. Our job is to figure out how to harness that energy. We have hundreds of people signing up to get involved at these events, and that's a good thing."

And that is probably the most sensible approach to the annual celebration of the marijuana subculture. It is a true grassroots phenomenon, percolating up from communities and campuses across the land like so much bubbling bong water, and now it seems to be breaking into the mainstream, too. 4/20 may not be the ideal face for the marijuana law reform movement, but it is the face of many of the people the movement claims to serve.

Canada: Victory for Patients as Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Government's Medical Marijuana Appeal

The Canadian federal government's monopoly over medical marijuana production is now officially history. The Canadian Supreme Court Thursday refused to hear a government appeal of two earlier lower court decisions annulling Health Canada's Medicinal Marijuana Access Regulations.

Under the government regulations, only a monopoly contractor growing marijuana in Flin Flon, Alberta, could supply medicine for more than one patient. Registered patients could grow their own or have a caregiver grow for them, but that caregiver could grow for only one patient.

Canadian medical marijuana patients and providers have chafed under the regulations for years. They complained that the Flin Flon marijuana was substandard in quality and that the regulations effectively criminalized co-ops and collective dispensaries growing for a community of patients.

"This type of litigation, which was challenging the restrictive nature of the government program, started in 2002," said lawyer Alan Young. "It's taken seven years for this resolution, and finally Health Canada has their marching orders. Now it's a question of whether we can compel this department to actually do what the courts have said they should do, which is provide compassionate access to people," he told the Canadian Press.

A federal court judge in British Columbia declared the Medicinal Marijuana Access Regulations invalid in January 2008, echoing the earlier decision of the Ontario Court of Appeals. The government was trying to appeal both decisions.

Now, Canada's medical marijuana providing community should flourish, Young said. "Hopefully some very good cultivators will be supplying medicine to sick people, and Health Canada can then monitor it in a very effective way. That's what I've been telling them for eight years."

Medical Marijuana: New Hampshire Bill Heads for Final Legislative Vote

The New Hampshire medical marijuana bill is headed for a Senate floor vote after passing out of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on a 4-1 vote Thursday afternoon. The bill has already passed the House.

The bill would allow seriously ill patients to possess up to six marijuana plants, six seeds, and two ounces of marijuana. Patients must be certified by a physician as having a debilitating condition that would benefit from the use of marijuana.

Responding to concerns by Gov. John Lynch about how distribution would be controlled, the Senate committee decided to postpone settling distribution questions until after the bill is passed. The committee accepted an amendment that would create a panel to study "issues related to creating a statewide system for the cultivation and distribution of medical marijuana." That panel would issue a report by May 1, 2010.

The measure is expected to have a Senate floor vote next week.

Sentencing Postponed in the Charlie Lynch Trial

I spent all afternoon getting geared up to go ballistic over this, only to learn that nothing happened:
The sentencing of Morro Bay, California medical marijuana dispensary owner Charles Lynch has been delayed yet again, this time until June 11. According to producer Ted Balaker, who has followed the Lynch saga from its start, the mood in the courtroom was guardedly optimistic, especially as Judge George H. Wu openly expressed his sympathy for Lynch.

"To be blunt, if I could find a way out, I would," said Wu, referring to mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines that insist Lynch get at least five years in prison. However, Wu summarily dismissed the notion of disregarding the guidelines, claiming it would simply be a "monumental waste of time" because such a decision would be overruled by a higher court. [Reason]
I'm not sure what this postponement means. It's definitely not a bad thing, though. If nothing else, it gives us more time to contact DOJ and the White House in support of Charlie. Please do exactly that. Here's some background for those that need it:

Opposing Medical Marijuana is Politically Risky

This new poll from New Hampshire casts further doubt on the rapidly unraveling notion that politicians must support harsh marijuana policies to get votes:

The Granite State Poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center showed that 45 percent of residents said they were more likely to vote for a Senate candidate who supports legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes.

The poll showed that 24 percent of residents said they would be less likely to vote for such a candidate. Another 26 percent said it would make no difference. [WMUR]

Clearly, supporting medical marijuana legalization is by far the safest choice for New Hampshire politicians. The margins are likely smaller in many states, but I bet you'd see a clear preference for pro-medical marijuana candidates throughout most of the country.

It's exactly this type of data that matters at this stage in our efforts. We've crossed a threshold in terms of educating our political culture about this issue. They know who we are and what we want. Our biggest challenge is demonstrating that political trends in fact favor reform decisively on certain issues and that opposition to something like medical marijuana will fairly reliably get you in trouble at the polls.

The numbers are already on our side, but I suspect we'll have to start being more aggressive to drive the point home. When we start launching vicious swiftboat-style attack ads accusing our opponents of wanting to arrest cancer patients, they'll suddenly become a lot more interested in what the polls say.

Happy Birthday ASA!


Happy Birthday ASA!

Hello ASA Supporter,

Seven years ago a handful of patients, doctors, and providers came together to stand up against federal intimidation and to chart out a plan for protecting safe access to medical cannabis. Today, we have turned that handful into thousands of committed advocates across the country. Through ASA we have built a strong, engaged movement.

Please donate $100 to ASA today to support this growing movement!

As a movement we have celebrated countless victories in the realm of access and extended patient protections. As a movement we have mourned together as our brothers and sisters left us. And as a movement we have shouted and protested the sight of our friends and family being harassed, detained, persecuted and jailed.

I have been truly amazed and touched by the family that has come together to fight for safe and legal access. Over the past seven years I have had the honor of meeting many of you. I have listened to story after story about the benefits that medical cannabis has brought to you and your loved ones. I have listened to countless stories about the hardships of lack of access and police harassment. And what is truly amazing is that in each of those stories you have also shared the inspiration of your willingness to stand up for yourself and those around you.

I carry those stories with me, as does the ASA staff. Your experiences define the work we do and the manner in which we do it.

We have already accomplished so much together. Our successful lobbying, media and legal campaigns have resulted in important court precedents, new sentencing standards, and more compassionate community guidelines. Together we have rolled back public ambivalence and media bias to make medical cannabis a national issue.

Now the time has come to ramp up our work - we have an administration that is open to moving safe access forward, and now we must show our strength and share our vision. This is ASA's most important year and we need your support to move forward. Opportunity is there but we must Engage for Change! Please donate $100 today to support ASA's work this year and beyond.

Happy B-Day ASA family!

Yours truly,

Steph Sherer
Executive Director
Americans for Safe Access

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.

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