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Medical Marijuana Patients Argue for Right to Unlawfully Seized Property

MEDIA ADVISORY Americans for Safe Access For Immediate Release: August 23, 2007 Contact: ASA Media Liaison Kris Hermes (510) 681-6361 or ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford (415) 573-7842 Medical Marijuana Patients Argue for Right to Unlawfully Seized Property Hearing Today in state appellate court could mark an end to years of local law enforcement violations What: Oral arguments for two medical marijuana "Return of Property" cases in State Appellate Court When: Thursday, August 23 at 1:30pm Where: California Court of Appeal for the Fourth District, 925 N. Spurgeon Street, Santa Ana Who: ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer, Chief Counsel Joe Elford will all be available for comment after the hearing Santa Ana, CA -- After more than two years, Garden Grove patient Felix Kha may finally see the return of his wrongfully confiscated 8 grams of medical marijuana. California's Fourth Appellate District in Santa Ana will hear oral arguments today in a case that has drawn the attention of the State Attorney General and the California Police Chiefs Association. Both organizations filed amicus briefs in the case, which supported opposite sides of the issue whether law enforcement has a right to seize a patient's marijuana and, in the event of an unlawful seizure, whether that patient has a right to get it back. Kha was cited for marijuana possession and had his medicine seized in June 2005, but after the case was dismissed in August 2005, an Orange County Superior Court judge ordered the return of his medicine. However, the City of Garden Grove not only refused to return Kha's unlawfully seized property, it also appealed the order, an unprecedented action by a California city. "More than ten years after the passage of the Compassionate Use Act, patients are still victim to routine medical marijuana seizures by local law enforcement," said Americans for Safe Access Chief Counsel, and Kha's attorney, Joe Elford. "It is bad enough to have your medicine indiscriminately seized by police, but to then be denied its rightful return shows a blatant disregard for state law and the hundreds of thousands of California patients for whom this law was designed to protect." Americans for Safe Access (ASA) has compiled reports from nearly eight hundred patient encounters with local or state police during a period of more than two years. These reports show a glaring trend: more than 90% of all encounters result in medicine seizure by police regardless of any probable cause. According to reports received by ASA, rampant seizure of medical marijuana from qualified patients and primary caregivers has taken place in 53 of California's 58 counties. These violations of state law occur in both urban and rural locales, in the north as well as the south, and by both city and county law enforcement. Until 2005, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) held the record for the worst violator of Proposition 215, with a policy of mandatory seizure of medical marijuana regardless of patient status. In early 2005, ASA sued the state's top law enforcement agency and by August of that year the CHP had revised its policy to better respect patients' rights. As a result of that policy change, the CHP went from being the most irresponsible law enforcement agency with regard to the unlawful seizure of medical marijuana to one of the state's best. As a result of different litigation, also involving ASA, the County of Merced revised its police policy in June 2007 to prevent the unlawful seizure of marijuana from qualified patients. As a consequence of the high number of medicine seizures, ASA has assisted scores of patients in seeking the return of their property. Although fairly onerous, California criminal courts have a mechanism to seek the return of medical marijuana; patients can file a motion for return of property and request a hearing. According to ASA, at least thirty of these motions have resulted in Superior Court orders and the return of patient medicine. At the same time, an undue number of denials have also occurred. In fact, Kha's case will be heard alongside the case of Jim Spray, a Huntington Beach patient that was denied a court order by a different judge in the same Superior Court that issued Kha's order. This discrepancy makes the issue ripe for an appellate court decision.
Location: 
Santa Ana, CA
United States

Europe: First German Patient Approved to Use Medical Marijuana

The German Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices has for the first time approved the use of medical marijuana for a patient. The institute acted in the case of a 51-year-old woman who suffers from multiple sclerosis, who will be able to legally buy marijuana at a pharmacy to ease her symptoms.

Beginning next month, the woman will be allowed to buy a "standardized extract" of the marijuana plant from the pharmacy for a year. The woman's health will be monitored by a doctor. In addition, both the woman and the pharmacy must store the marijuana extract in a safe to prevent theft.

Marijuana is illegal in Germany, but a 2005 German Federal Administrative Court ruling has muddied the waters when it comes to medical marijuana. In that ruling, the court held that it was "in the public interest" to improve the health of patients, so now the federal institute must individually evaluate each case where a patient seeks access to medical marijuana.

Until now, German doctors have only been able to prescribe Marinol, but that compound is both expensive and lacks some of the cannabinoids that patients say makes natural marijuana preferable to the synthetic drug. Marinol is also not approved as a medicine in Germany, meaning it is not covered by health insurance. Natural marijuana should be less expensive.

Still, despite this week's decision to approve medical marijuana for one patient, other medical marijuana patients still face possible prosecution. Last week, the Suddeutsche Zeitung reported on the case of a hepatitis-C patient sentenced to a year in jail for marijuana possession.

Medical Marijuana: Obama Says End Raids, All Democratic Presidential Candidates Now on Board

The Democratic Party presidential field is now in agreement on at least one issue: The DEA's raids on medical marijuana patients and providers in states where it is legal should be stopped. Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, who had been the last holdout, on Tuesday said he would end such raids.

Obama's pledge came as a response to a question from Nashua resident and Granite Staters for Medical Marijuana volunteer Scott Turner, who asked the senator what he would do to stop the federal government from putting seriously ill people like Turner in prison in states where medical marijuana is legal. Granite Staters is a project of the Marijuana Policy Project designed to advance the issue by taking advantage of New Hampshire's crucial role in presidential primaries.

"I would not have the Justice Department prosecuting and raiding medical marijuana users," Obama said. "It's not a good use of our resources."

Obama now joins all seven other Democratic presidential contenders in opposing the raids, as well as Republican candidates Rep. Ron Paul (TX) and Rep. Tom Tancredo (CO).

"For the first time in history, the leaders of one of our nation's major parties have unanimously called for an end to the federal prosecution of medical marijuana patients," GSMM campaign manager Stuart Cooper, from Manchester, said. "New Hampshire voters and medical professionals effectively sent a clear message that we would not support a candidate who would arrest – rather than protect – our nation's most seriously ill citizens. Compassion and reason are finally overcoming politics and propaganda."

Last Friday, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson took it a step further by sending a letter to President Bush asking him to end the raids. "Respected physicians and government officials should not fear going to jail for acting compassionately and caring for our most vulnerable citizens," Richardson wrote. "Nor should those most vulnerable of citizens fear their government because they take the medicine they need."

Medical Marijuana: Is An Ohio Initiative In the Works?

With the effort to get a medical marijuana initiative on the 2008 ballot in Michigan well underway, reform proponents are now eying next door Ohio, the Columbus Dispatch reported Saturday. The newspaper said the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) is weighing its options in the Buckeye State.

"Ohio would be a state worth considering, certainly a high priority. It would be a question of timing," said Edward Orlett, a former Democratic state legislator who represents DPA in Ohio.

DPA sponsored a 2002 Ohio initiative that would have mandated treatment instead of incarceration for many drug offenders. It was defeated 2-to-1 at the polls after the state's Republican political establishment campaigned against it, but now Ohio legislators are pondering passing a bill that would do basically the same thing.

A medical marijuana initiative effort in Ohio would likely attract the interest of Cleveland-based Peter Lewis, the chairman and former CEO of Progressive Insurance, and a major contributor to marijuana reform efforts who gives millions of dollars each year to the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP).

MPP has awarded a startup grant to the Ohio Patient Network, a Columbus-based group that supports medical marijuana, the newspaper reported.

Twelve states have enacted laws allowing for the medicinal use of marijuana. None of them are in the Midwest.

Feature: Push for Medical Marijuana Underway in Kansas

An effort to bring Kansas into the ranks of the medical marijuana states took a big step forward last Friday as one of the state's most well-known political figures appeared at a news conference at the state capitol to announce his support of such a move. Former Attorney General Robert Stephan, a Republican who held the position from 1979 to 1995, told the news conference the state has an obligation to act to allow its citizens to use medications that would alleviate suffering.

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Robert Stephan, KSCCC press conference, August 2007
"Let me make clear that I am in no way advocating drug legalization," said Stephan, who has been on record as a medical marijuana supporter since 1983. "But I also do not believe that the state should preempt the role of the physician when it comes to deciding what's best for ill Kansans. That's why I support changing state law to ensure that individuals can obtain and use a limited amount of marijuana if recommended by their doctor -- without fear of prosecution."

Stephan cited his own experience as a cancer patient, as well as the suffering of other patients, in calling for a Kansas medical marijuana law. Rejecting opposition to the medicinal use of marijuana as "voodoo medicine" and recounting the moans of misery he heard on the cancer ward, Stephan said, "It seemed incomprehensible to me that there should be such suffering and any drug, including marijuana, should be available to assist the patient." Stephan said access to medical marijuana should not be limited to cancer patients. It has proven useful for glaucoma, AIDS, Multiple Sclerosis, and other diseases, he said.
Stephan declined a Drug War Chronicle request for an interview. He said he feared talking to a publication that advocates for drug legalization would damage his cause.

Last Friday's event marked the public coming out for the Kansas Compassionate Care Coalition, which has been busy laying the groundwork for a campaign it hopes will lead to legislation next year. It certainly garnered attention in the Jayhawk State. A Google search this week produced dozens of local media mentions of the news conference.

And that's just fine with KSCCC head Laura Green. "Our goal is to get a bill introduced in the Kansas legislature to protect seriously ill Kansans from arrest and prosecution for using marijuana as a medicine," said Green, "and this will kick-start the conversation."

It is a conversation that could use a boost in the Heartland. Twelve states with some 50 million inhabitants currently have medical marijuana laws, but none of them are in the Midwest. Efforts in legislatures in states such as Illinois and Minnesota have not reached fruition, while voters in South Dakota last year narrowly defeated a medical marijuana initiative -- the first state to reject medical marijuana at the ballot box.

The KSCCC is not carrying a pre-drafted bill to present to the legislature, said Green. "We're still five months away from the legislative session, so we don't have a bill yet," she said. "We're working with individual legislators and trying to built support and a consensus. There are many different medical marijuana models out there, and we're looking for one that our legislators can get comfortable with," Green said.

Some Kansas politicians were quick off the mark to reject medical marijuana after last Friday's press conference, but Green is not concerned. "We don't have a lot of political support right now, but that's to be expected," she argued. "Some politicians say they haven't had a chance to hear from their constituents, while even some of the ones who say publicly they're against it tell us something different in private."

It's not just legislators, said Green, who added she and the KSCCC will do everything they can to make sure elected officials do hear from constituents favoring a medical marijuana bill. The coalition is about a year old and some 400 members strong right now. "We're going around the state recruiting members -- patients, physicians, nurses, members of the religious community -- to try to build our numbers," Green said.

The Kansas State Nursing Association is a key target. The influential group will vote on a medical marijuana resolution in October, Green said, noting that an endorsement from the nurses will be a powerful tool.

The group is also attempting to get the Kansas clergy on its side. "We are getting a lot of religious support," said Green, who, as head of the Drug Policy Forum of Kansas spent long hours mapping out the state's hundreds of congregations as part of laying the groundwork for drug reform efforts. "We did a mailer to members of the clergy last Friday, and we've already had 30 responses. The response from the clergy has really been great," Green said.

If the legislative record in other medical marijuana states is any indication, KSCCC and its supporters have a long and twisting road in front of them. Passage of a medical marijuana law seems to be almost universally a three-year affair, or more. But in Kansas, patient proponents have been laying the groundwork for a year or more, and now they have emerged with a key state political figure standing with them. If they manage to enter the legislative session in January with some momentum, they just might short-circuit the normal, glacial legislative process.

Democratic Presidential Candidates All Support Medical Marijuana

It's about time Barack Obama took the right position on a drug policy issue. Last night he concurred with the other democratic presidential hopefuls that the federal medical marijuana raids must stop:
MANCHESTER, NEW HAMPSHIRE — In his first public statement on the subject, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama pledged to end medical marijuana raids in the 12 states that have medical marijuana laws Tuesday at a campaign event during a Nashua Pride minor league baseball game.

Obama's pledge came as a response to a question from Nashua resident and Granite Staters for Medical Marijuana volunteer Scott Turner, who asked the senator what he would do to stop the federal government from putting seriously ill people like Turner in prison in states where medical marijuana is legal.

"I would not have the Justice Department prosecuting and raiding medical marijuana users," Obama said. "It's not a good use of our resources." [MPP]
I remain unimpressed with Obama, however. He promises "change" yet openly laments the "political capital" it would cost to repair a no-brainer racial justice issue like the crack powder sentencing disparity. Arguably the worst on drug policy among the democratic contenders, Obama's stance on medical marijuana could easily be dismissed as a political rather than a compassionate stance.

Still, Obama's gutlessness would hardly alienate him from a Democratic Congress that remains enslaved by the drug war status quo. Really, if all democratic candidates agree with ending the medical marijuana raids, why the hell are democrats continually blocking the Hinchey Amendment, which does exactly that?

I just asked MPP's Aaron Houston this question, and he says it's a lot easier for the President to define DOJ's priorities than it is to get every single Democrat to sign onto something that many believe could hurt them politically. This may explain why Hinchey didn't do better this year under a democratically-controlled Congress. Since the democrats see a strong chance of reclaiming the White House, they have little incentive to take even minor political risks over an issue that could be resolved administratively in January '09.

That's a long wait for patients and providers that continue to live in fear of the DEA, but with Hinchey on pace to pass in 2027, January '09 feels like a fine time to bring this madness to an end.

(This blog post was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)
Location: 
United States

Supporting Medical Marijuana Is Smart Politics

This exchange between Bill Richardson and Stuart Cooper of Granite Staters for Medical Marijuana shows the political wisdom of supporting compassionate policies. Richardson discusses his efforts to protect patients in New Mexico, and describes the broader drug war as a failure, then appeals to Cooper for support:

Richardson: By the way, I hope you can get me some votes. I haven't won too many votes with that one. You should see the letter I got from the Sheriff's Association, but sometimes you gotta do the right thing. It's the right thing.

Cooper: Sir, 80% of New Hampshire voters agree with you.

Richardson: Do they?

Cooper: Yes sir.

Richardson: Will you tell them?

Already on the presidential campaign trail, Richardson was nonetheless surprised to learn that his support for medical marijuana would resonate with a huge majority of voters.

That was July 16. By August 17, Richardson had sent a letter to President Bush demanding that ONDCP stop threatening his state's new medical marijuana program. He also ordered the NM Dept. of Health to move forward despite federal intimidation. All of this is displayed proudly on his presidential campaign site.

The point here isn’t that Richardson is trying to win the favor of voters. He already supported medical marijuana, but stepped up his efforts after learning that it was safe and, in fact, smart to do so. By taking this message to the other candidates, we might get more than just a promise to end the federal raids.

(This blog post was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)
Location: 
United States

New Mexico Medical Marijuana Update -- Richardson Says Full Steam Ahead Despite Attorney General's "Prank"

Late Thursday night we reported in the Chronicle that New Mexico's Dept. of Health had balked at supplying medical marijuana to patients following a warning from state Attorney General Gary King that he wouldn't defend state workers if the feds prosecuted them. Gov. Richardson, who is running for president in the Democratic primary, has ordered the Health Dept. to comply with the law, and has urged President Bush to stop the medical marijuana prosecutions. I'm not surprised by Richardson's stance, given how hard he fought to rescue the bill last spring when its demise had already been pronounced. Looking at the text of the law, I really have to say I think King is full of it. The law does not tell the Health Dept. to have its own employees grow or distribute marijuana; it tells the department to license people to grow it. Then those licensees will be taking their chances with the feds, for their own individual reasons. But that's not the same thing as state employees being subject to federal prosecution themselves. There have certainly been federal raids of medical marijuana providers in states that have licensed them, but not of the state agencies who have issued them licenses to protect them from state prosecution. Good for Bill Richardson, shame on Gary King, did he really think he could put that one over?
Location: 
Santa Fe, NM
United States

Medical Marijuana: A Push Gets Underway in Kansas

While state medical marijuana laws are in place along both coasts, not a single state from the Great Plains to the Appalachian Mountains has passed such a law. A voter initiative last year in South Dakota was narrowly defeated, and while legislative efforts in some Midwestern states, notably Illinois and Minnesota, have progressed, none have made it to a governor's desk. For medical marijuana, the Heartland might as well be the Empty Quarter.

Now, a Kansas drug reform activist and a prominent state politician are hoping to change that. Today, Laura Green of the Drug Policy Forum of Kansas and former Kansas Attorney General Bob Stephan are holding a press conference on the capitol steps in Topeka to announce the formation of the Kansas Compassionate Care Coalition, which will push to get a medical marijuana law in place in the Jayhawk State.

Stephan, a Republican who was attorney general from 1979 to 1995, came out of the closet as a medical marijuana supporter to local media this week, telling reporters he had supported legalizing the medicinal use of the herb for the past 20 years. His opinion was based on his own experience as a cancer patient, as well as talking to other cancer patients, he said.

"Our objectives are simple," said Green in a press release announcing the news conference and the new organization. "To allow physicians -- not politicians -- to make decisions about what is best for patients and to protect citizens from the risk of arrest simply because they're trying to gain relief from a major medical problem. No one should face the ordeal of arrest and possibly prison because they want to feel better," Green said. "That's why the Compassionate Care Coalition is working closely with state legislators, law enforcement officials, healthcare leaders and others to pass laws that will help our fellow Kansans in their time of need."

Look for a feature article on what's cooking in Kansas next week.

Medical Marijuana: Feds Seek Oregon Patient Records in Probe of Growers -- Patients Cry Foul

Oregon medical marijuana patients and their supporters are up in arms after it was revealed that a federal grand jury next door in Yakima, Washington, has issued subpoenas demanding medical records for 17 Oregon patients. The subpoenas were issued in April as part of a federal investigation into a small number of Washington and Oregon marijuana growers.

Subpoenas were served to the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program, the state office that issues permits to patients and growers, as well as The Hemp and Cannabis Foundation, a private Portland clinic where doctors examine patients to see if their conditions can be alleviated by medical marijuana.

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Donald DuPay, official 2006 election photo
As part of the same investigation, DEA agents in June raided the home of medical marijuana patient and caregiver Donald DuPay, seizing 135 plants he was growing for other patients. DuPay, who hosts a local cable TV show about marijuana, was not arrested. He is among the 17 people whose records were subpoenaed.

For Oregon patients, the experience has been frightening and disturbing. "It's crazy. It's really scary. If they can get my records, they can get Gov. Kulongoski's, they can get yours," DuPay, a former Portland police officer and 2006 candidate for Multnomah County sheriff, told The Oregonian on Saturday.

For medical marijuana advocates, it looks like a new tactic deployed by the feds in their ongoing effort to thwart state medical marijuana laws. The grand jury subpoenas are the first ever issued for patient records in a marijuana case, "and of course, it is very worrisome," said Bruce Mirken, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "People have an expectation of medical privacy, and I think they have a right to expect medical privacy," Mirken said. "It's one thing to talk about people selling a product that is in fact not legal under federal law. We may think that's stupid. But that's in a whole different realm than obtaining people's medical records."

"This sends a message to the other states and their programs that they're vulnerable to federal interference," said Kris Hermes of Americans for Safe Access. "It doesn't take a brick to hit you over the head to know that the federal government is trying to undermine California's medical marijuana law, given all the raids and threats to landlords. This is one step further that shows the federal government is very serious about going after patients."

Patients and their advocates are fighting the subpoenas. On August 1, attorneys representing the state of Oregon, and the ACLU representing The Hemp and Cannabis Foundation, went before Chief US District Court Judge Robert Whaley in Yakima to urge him to throw out the subpoenas.

In that hearing, Assistant US Attorney James Hagery, who is leading the federal investigation, admitted that the subpoenas were too broadly written. He told the judge the grand jury is investigating "four or five" Washington and Oregon growers for using the medical marijuana laws to cover up their marijuana sales, that the 17 patients were people who got medical marijuana from the growers in question, and that the grand jury wants only current addresses and phone numbers, not "medical records" for those patients.

Hagerty did not explain why, if he is investigating alleged non-medical marijuana sales, he needs to look at registered medical marijuana patients.

A ruling on the subpoenas will come soon, the judge said.

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