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Don't Miss Mexican Human Rights/Drug War Activist Javier Sicilia in DC This Week

Mexico poet and human rights activist Javier Sicilia and the Caravan for Peace (Movement for Peace and Justice with Dignity) will be in the nation's capital Tuesday and Wednesday. Sicilia will address both Congress and the Organization of American States. The events are open to the public. This press release has more details.

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Rally Monday at Obama Fundraiser in Oakland, Demand End to Federal Attacks on Medical Marijuana

MEDIA ADVISORY

Americans for Safe Access
For Immediate Release:
July 20, 2012
Contact: ASA Media Liaison Kris Hermes or ASA California Director Don Duncan

Medical Marijuana Patients to Rally Monday at Obama Fundraiser in Oakland, Demand End to Federal Attacks
President Obama's visit to Oakland follows aggressive DOJ actions aimed at shutting down city-permitted dispensaries

Oakland, CA -- Hundreds of medical marijuana patients and advocates will stage a rally Monday in downtown Oakland at a fundraiser for President Obama's re-election campaign. The president's visit to Oakland follows a recent forfeiture action aimed at shutting down Harborside Health Center, a city-permitted dispensary that has operated since 2006 without incident. Earlier this year, the Obama Justice Department raided and shut down another of Oakland's permitted dispensaries, Blue Sky, leaving the city with a dwindling number of facilities to serve Oakland's patient population. On Monday, protesters will demand an end to federal interference and call for the firing of Melinda Haag, the U.S. Attorney for northern California.

What: Rally and press conference to protest federal attacks on the medical marijuana community and on Oakland's dispensaries in particular
When: Monday, July 23rd Press Conference at 1:45pm (Rally Noon-5pm)
Where: Press conference at Oaksterdam University, 1600 Broadway, Oakland (Rally at City Hall Plaza)

"The Obama Administration's attacks on the medical marijuana community are unprecedented and out-of-control," said Steph Sherer, Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access, the country's leading medical marijuana advocacy organization and one of the groups organizing Monday's rally. "We're here to let the president know that there's a political, and not just a financial, cost to shutting down law-abiding dispensaries," continued Sherer. "Patients are demanding that the president take account for his administration's harmful actions and address medical marijuana like the public health issue that it is."

President Obama has been dogged for the actions of U.S. Attorneys over the past two years, as his administration engaged in an all-out attack in medical marijuana states. From thinly-veiled threats against public officials in several medical marijuana states to hundreds of SWAT-style raids and threats against property owners, resulting in the closure of hundreds of dispensaries in California and other states, Obama's Justice Department has expended millions of dollars to target state law-compliant businesses.

These attacks represent an about-face to President Obama's stated policy that he was "not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue." Most recently, Attorney General Eric Holder testified before the House Judiciary Committee last month that his Justice Department was only targeting medical marijuana businesses "out of conformity with state law." Four days later, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents raided El Camino Wellness, a legally permitted dispensary in Sacramento widely supported by City Council members and others in the community.

Just last week, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag filed a forfeiture lawsuit against the landlord of Harborside Health Center, lauded as the most popular dispensary in the country, in an attempt to shut down its two facilities in Oakland and San Jose. The legal action by Haag elicited outrage from not just the medical marijuana community, but also from a number of supportive public officials, including Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker, State Assembly member Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), and Betty Yee of the State Board of Equalization, which collects more than $100 million in annual sales tax revenue from California's dispensaries.

In May, the Alameda County Democratic Party Central Committee unanimously adopted a resolution, decrying the federal raids as "a breach of promise and ill-directed use of taxpayer dollars," and calling on the federal government "to adhere to Administration promises about respecting state laws on medical marijuana by directing federal agencies to cease and desist from any further such action in California."

# # #

With over 50,000 active members in all 50 states, Americans for Safe Access (ASA) is the largest national member-based organization of patients, medical professionals, scientists and concerned citizens promoting safe and legal access to cannabis for therapeutic use and research. ASA works to overcome political and legal barriers by creating policies that improve access to medical cannabis for patients and researchers through legislation, education, litigation, grassroots actions, advocacy and services for patients and the caregivers.

Location: 
Oakland, CA
United States

US Law Enforcement Officials Call on Canadian Prime Minister to Legalize Marijuana

WASHINGTON, DC -- A high-profile group of current and former law enforcement officials from the United States is calling on the Canadian government to reconsider the mandatory minimum sentences for minor marijuana offenses proposed in Bill C-10, arguing that the taxation and regulation of marijuana is a more effective policy approach to reducing crime.

On Wednesday, the law enforcers released a letter outlining their concerns, addressed to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Canadian senators. It is signed by more than two dozen current and former judges, police officers, special agents, narcotics investigators and other criminal justice professionals, all of whom are members of the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). The letter strongly reinforces the failure of U.S. crime policies that those proposed in the Canadian federal government’s Bill C-10 legislation seem to be modeled on.

“Through our years of service enforcing anti-marijuana laws, we have seen the devastating consequences of these laws,” the letter states. “Among the greatest concerns is the growth in organized crime and gang violence. Just as with alcohol prohibition, gang violence, corruption and social decay have marched in lockstep with marijuana prohibition.”

“We were deeply involved with the war on drugs and have now accepted, due to our own experience and the clear evidence before us, that these policies are a costly failure,” the letter continues. “Marijuana prohibition drives corruption and violence and tougher laws only worsen the problem.”

Bill C-10, titled “The Safe Streets and Communities Act,” is currently being heard by the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. Among other proposals, the bill calls for stricter mandatory minimum sentences for minor marijuana offenses, including minimum six-month sentences for growing as few as six marijuana plants.

“The Canadian government believes the answer is to get tougher on criminals,” said Norm Stamper, retired chief of police in Seattle, Washington. “But as we’ve learned with our decades-long failed experiment with the ‘war on drugs,’ the stricter sentencing proposed in the bill will only serve to help fill jails. It will not reduce harms related to the illicit marijuana trade, make Canadian streets safer or diminish gang activity.”

Said retired Washington State Superior Court Judge David Nichols: “Policies similar to those in the U.S. and now under consideration in Canada have been costly failures in the United States, wasting tax dollars and bankrupting state budgets. Following our path presents obvious and significant risks to Canadians.”

Among the 28 signers of the letter are many law enforcement officials working in border areas. They pointed to the illegal cross-border marijuana trade as sustaining gang activity in the region.

“Organized crime groups move marijuana to the U.S. from British Columbia and return with cocaine and guns,” said Stamper. “Prohibition continues to fill the coffers of organized criminals, making communities on both sides of the border less safe.”

Eric Sterling, who helped the U.S. Congress write the federal mandatory minimum sentencing laws, cautions: “As counsel to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee during the 1980's, I played a major role in writing the mandatory minimum drug sentencing laws which later turned out to not only be ineffective in reducing drug use, but which directly contributed to the disastrous overincarceration problem in this country. I urge policy makers in Canada to learn from our mistakes.”

Canadian Senator Larry Campbell, a member of LEAP’s advisory board and a former member of the RCMP and its drug squad, added: “I am hopeful that my Senate colleagues will listen to the voice of experience, and take into account the advice from leading U.S. law enforcement officials to avoid mandatory minimum sentences. The U.S. and many of its citizens have suffered greatly due to the inflexible and dogmatic nature of mandatory minimum sentences, and Canada would be wise to learn from and avoid that costly and socially destructive mistake.”

U.S. Becoming More Progressive than Canada with Marijuana Policy

While Canada moves towards stricter sentencing with Bill C-10, many states in the U.S. are shifting in the opposite direction, toward control and regulation of the marijuana trade. The law enforcement officials pointed to the 16 U.S. states and the District of Columbia that have already passed laws allowing medical use of cannabis, the 14 states that have taken steps to decriminalize marijuana possession and the initiatives to fully tax and regulate marijuana that are likely to appear on statewide ballots this November in Washington State, Colorado and possibly California.

“We assume this news will not make you consider closing the borders with the United States,” the law enforcement officials write in their letter.

For a copy of the law enforcement letter, please visit http://www.leap.cc/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/regulation-in-canada.pdf

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) represents police, prosecutors, judges, prison wardens, federal agents and others who want to legalize and regulate marijuana and other drugs after fighting on the front lines of the "war on drugs" and learning firsthand that prohibition only serves to worsen addiction and violence.

More info at http://www.CopsSayLegalizeDrugs.com.

 

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 22, 2012

CONTACT: Tom Angell, media@leap.cc or Steve Finlay, steve.finlay@leap.cc

Location: 
Canada

Bipartisan New Mexico Bill Supports Fund for State Medical Marijuana Program

 

Drug Policy Alliance

www.drugpolicy.org

 

For Immediate Release:                            Contact: Emily Kaltenbach (505) 920-5256

February 3, 2012                                                             Tony Newman (646) 335-5384

 

In Rare Bi-partisan Move, State Legislators Back Fund to Support New Mexico Medical Marijuana Program

Senators Adair (R), Ortiz y Pino (D), and Ryan (R), join Senator McSorley (D) to sponsor Senate Bill 240

 

(Santa Fe) – Midway through the 2012 Legislative Session, a bill aimed at protecting thousands of sick New Mexicans' legal right to the most appropriate medication to relieve their symptoms and suffering has been introduced by Senator Cisco McSorley (D) and signed on by Senator Rod Adair (R), Senator Gerald Ortiz y Pino (D), and Senator John Ryan (R).  Senate Bill 240 creates a Medical Marijuana Fund sustained by the producer and patient production licensing fees currently being collected by the Department of Health.  The Department of Health will be able to use these funds to directly administer the program.

"This bill is an unusual partnership among conservatives and liberals for the advancement of policy efforts in New Mexico," said Emily Kaltenbach, Director of the Drug Policy Alliance’s New Mexico office. "Many of the best ideas defy political labels."

SB240 is one of those ideas.  Since the funding will come from existing fees, there is no added burden to the taxpayers and the additional resources will greatly strengthen the state's ability to fulfill its oversight and legal duties under the existing law (Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act) while continuing to provide safe access to safe medicine to patients who are suffering from serious illnesses.  

Yesterday, SB240 unanimously passed the Senate Conservation Committee and will be heard next in the Senate Finance Committee.

Out of the 16 states with medical marijuana laws, New Mexico was one of few states in which a majority of Republican legislators voted for the passage of the legislation. New Mexico passed its medical marijuana bill in early 2007 with overwhelming bi-partisan legislative support, including a Senate vote of 32 – 3.

Today, New Mexico's vital Medical Marijuana Program is serving over 5,000 patients diagnosed with serious illnesses such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, PTSD, spinal cord injury, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and epilepsy. 

A New Mexico Drug Policy Reform study found 79% of New Mexico voters support making medical marijuana available to seriously or terminally ill patients in order to reduce their pain and suffering.

Senate Bill 240’s bi-partisan sponsorship comes on the heels of a forum co-hosted by the Rio Grande Foundation and the Drug Policy Alliance in late 2011.  Last October, more than a dozen New Mexico legislators from both sides of the aisle joined about 70 others to explore their shared values and principles on a more rational public safety and health response to drug policy reform. 

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) is the nation's leading organization of people who believe the war on drugs is doing more harm than good. DPA fights for drug policies based on science, compassion, health and human rights. 

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Location: 
NM
United States

YouTube Ignores Cop's First Place Marijuana Legalization Video Question for Obama

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:January 30, 2012
CONTACT:Tom Angell - (202) 557-4979 or media@leap.cc

YouTube Ignores Cop's First Place Marijuana Legalization Video Question for Obama

Site Finds Time for Questions About Dancing, Late-Night Snacks and Playing Tennis

WASHINGTON, DC-- Today YouTube ignored a question advocating marijuana legalization from a retired LAPD deputy chief of police that won twice as many votes as any other video question in the White House's "Your Interview with the President" competition on the Google-owned site. They did, however, find the time to get the president on record about late night snacking, singing and dancing, celebrating wedding anniversaries and playing tennis.  

Stephen Downing, the retired LAPD police officer and a board member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), had this to say about the site ignoring his question: "It's worse than silly that YouTube and Google would waste the time of the president and of the American people discussing things like midnight snacks and playing tennis when there is a much more pressing question on the minds of the people who took the time to participate in voting on submissions. A majority of Americans now support legalizing marijuana to de-fund cartels and gangs, lower incarceration and arrest rates and save scarce public resources, all while generating new much-needed tax revenue. The time to discuss this issue is now. We're tired of this serious public policy crisis being pushed aside or laughed off."

The top-voted video question from Downing is as follows: "Mr. President, my name is Stephen Downing, and I'm a retired deputy chief of police from the Los Angeles Police Department. From my 20 years of experience I have come to see our country’s drug policies as a failure and a complete waste of criminal justice resources. According to the Gallup Poll, the number of Americans who support legalizing and regulating marijuana now outnumbers those who support continuing prohibition. What do you say to this growing voter constituency that wants more changes to drug policy than you have delivered in your first term?" The question can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J0IpiATxdR4.

Downing's question came in first place for video questions and ranked second out of all questions (with the overall top spot going to a text question about copyright infringement). Many of the other top-ranking questions were about marijuana policy or the failed "war on drugs," as has been the case every other time the White House has invited citizens to submit and vote on questions via the web. 

Voting in the YouTube contest wrapped up Saturday at midnight EST. In addition to the top-voted marijuana and drug policy questions mentioned above, there were a number of other similar questions that received thousands of votes but were mysteriously deleted after being marked "inappropriate."

More information about the contest and the top-voted questions can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/whitehouse. The Gallup poll referenced in Downing's winning question can be found online at http://www.gallup.com/poll/150149/Record-High-Americans-Favor-Legalizing-Marijuana.aspx.

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) represents police, prosecutors, judges, FBI/DEA agents and others who want to legalize and regulate drugs after fighting on the front lines of the war on drugs and learning firsthand that prohibition only serves to worsen addiction and violence. More info at http://www.CopsSayLegalizeDrugs.com.

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Patient Advocates File Appeal Brief in Federal Case to Reclassify Medical Marijuana

 

PRESS RELEASE
Americans for Safe Access
For Immediate Release:
January 26, 2012
Contact: ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford or ASA Media Liaison Kris Hermes

Patient Advocates File Appeal Brief in Federal Case to Reclassify Medical Marijuana
Lawsuit in the D.C. Circuit challenges DEA denial to reschedule marijuana for medical use

Washington, DC -- The country's leading medical marijuana advocacy group, Americans for Safe Access (ASA), filed an appeal brief today in the D.C. Circuit to compel the federal government to reclassify marijuana for medical use. In July 2011, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) denied a petition filed in 2002 by the Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis (CRC), which was denied only after the coalition sued the government for unreasonable delay. The ASA brief filed today is an appeal of the CRC rescheduling denial.

"By ignoring the wealth of scientific evidence that clearly shows the therapeutic value of marijuana, the Obama Administration is playing politics at the expense of sick and dying Americans," said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford, who filed the appeal today. "For the first time in more than 15 years we will be able to present evidence in court to challenge the government's flawed position on medical marijuana." Although two other rescheduling petitions have been filed since the establishment of the Controlled Substances Act in 1970, the merits of medical efficacy was reviewed only once by the courts in 1994.

The ASA appeal brief asserts that the federal government acted arbitrarily and capriciously in its efforts to deny marijuana to millions of patients throughout the United States. ASA argues in the brief that the DEA has no "license to apply different criteria to marijuana than to other drugs, ignore critical scientific data, misrepresent social science research, or rely upon unsubstantiated assumptions, as the DEA has done in this case." ASA is urging the court to "require the DEA to analyze the scientific data evenhandedly," and order "a hearing and findings based on the scientific record."

Patient advocates argue that by failing to reclassify marijuana, the federal government has stifled meaningful research into a wide array of therapeutic uses, such as pain relief, appetite stimulation, nausea suppression, and spasticity control among many other benefits. In 1988, the government ignored the ruling of its own Administrative Law Judge Francis Young who said that, "Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man."

Since the CRC petition was filed in 2002, an even greater number of studies have been published that show the medical benefits of marijuana for illnesses such as neuropathic pain, multiple sclerosis, and Alzheimer's. Recent studies even show that marijuana may inhibit the growth of cancer cells. Last year, the National Cancer Institute, a division of the federal Department of Health and Human Services, added cannabis to its list of Complementary Alternative Medicines, pointing out that it's been therapeutically used for millennia. The ASA appeal asserts that scientific evidence that  was studied or discovered after 2002 is still relevant and must be considered.

Attorneys David Holland and Michael Kennedy filed the original petition in 2002 on behalf the Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis, which included several individual patients and groups, such as ASA and Patients Out of Time.

AFI: Several patient-petitioners are available for interviews:

William Britt
Mr. Britt is a 52-year-old resident of Long Beach, California, who developed polio as a child, which caused him to have scoliosis, a fused left ankle, shortened left leg, and bone degeneration in his left hip.  Mr. Britt also suffers from epilepsy, depression and insomnia, and uses marijuana to treat chronic pain in his leg, back, and hip. Marijuana has reduced Mr. Britt's seizures and depression, and helps him sleep. Although Mr. Britt has taken prescription medication such as Marinol, Robaxin, Soma, and Xanax, none has proven as effective as marijuana.

Michael Krawitz
Mr. Krawitz is a 49-year-old resident of Elliston, Virginia, who suffered an automobile accident in 1984 while serving in the United States Air Force.  Mr. Krawitz has been rated by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) as being totally and permanently disabled. Mr. Krawitz uses marijuana to treat chronic pain and trauma associated with his accident.  He also use marijuana to treat central serous retinopathy. However, because of Mr. Krawitz's medical marijuana use, he has been denied pain treatment by the VA.

Steph Sherer
Ms. Sherer is a resident of Washington, D.C. and the founder and Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access (ASA). In April of 2000, Ms. Sherer suffered a physical attack that has caused her to suffer from a condition known as torticollis, which causes her to experience inflammation, muscle spasms, pain throughout her body, and decreased mobility in her neck. Because of pain medication she was prescribed, including Soma, Robaxin and Ibuprofin, Ms. Sherer suffered kidney damage. After her doctor recommended medical marijuana, Ms. Sherer successfully reduced her inflammation, muscle spasms, and pain. This prompted Ms. Sherer to found ASA in April of 2002 to share what she learned about the medical benefits of marijuana with others. Since then, ASA has grown to more than thirty-five thousand members, including many seriously ill persons who would have benefited from the use of marijuana for medical purposes, but who were deterred from doing so, in part, by the government's statements that marijuana “has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.”

Further information:
ASA appeal brief filed today: http://AmericansForSafeAccess.org/downloads/CRC_Appeal.pdf
DEA answer to CRC petition: http://AmericansForSafeAccess.org/downloads/CRC_Petition_DEA_Answer.pdf
CRC rescheduling petition: http://www.drugscience.org/PDF/Petition_Final_2002.pdf

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With over 50,000 active members in all 50 states, Americans for Safe Access (ASA) is the largest national member-based organization of patients, medical professionals, scientists and concerned citizens promoting safe and legal access to cannabis for therapeutic use and research. ASA works to overcome political and legal barriers by creating policies that improve access to medical cannabis for patients and researchers through legislation, education, litigation, grassroots actions, advocacy and services for patients and the caregivers.

Medical Marijuana Patient Surrenders Today -- Pardon Sought from Gov. Christie

MEDIA ADVISORY
January 27, 2012

Medical Marijuana Patient Surrenders Today; Pardon Sought from Gov Christie

Somerville – Multiple sclerosis patient John Ray Wilson will appear at the Somerset County Courthouse today at 8:30AM. He is expected to be taken into custody to serve the reminder of a five-year prison term for growing seventeen cannabis plants. The NJ State Supreme Court refused to hear his latest appeal. He was convicted just before the New Jersey medical marijuana law was passed in 2010.

"John Ray Wilson exemplifies the fact the NJ has some of the most retroactive, ill-advised draconian marijuana laws in the country," said civil rights attorney William Buckman who represented Wilson in the appeal.

"The notion that taxpayers should pay to lock up a sick man for 5 years is ludicrous and tragic," said Buckman, "The governor should quickly commute his sentence."

Governor Chris Christie could intervene. State Senator Raymond Lesniak issued a press release yesterday also renewing that call: "I am disappointed by the recent decision of the Supreme Court to deny the appeal of John Ray Wilson. Mr. Wilson was not selling drugs on our streets. He was merely trying to alleviate the symptoms of a dreadfully painful and regressive disease. It is unconscionable that this Friday he will be behind bars."

The Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey (CMMNJ) has been keeping up demonstrations in support of John since his original trial. The group plans to hold solidarity events for Wilson while he is in prison. A support rally is planned in front of the court house today.

John Wilson's case has symbolized the ongoing plight of New Jersey's medical cannabis patients.

For more information about this release, please contact Ken Wolski or Chris Goldstein.

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WHAT: Support rally for John Ray Wilson
WHERE: Somerset County Courthouse 40 N Bridge St, Somerville
WHEN: 1/27/2012 - - - 8:30AM ET

CMMNJ, a 501(c)(3) public charity, is a non-profit educational organization.
Coalition for Medical Marijuana--New Jersey, Inc. www.cmmnj.org
219 Woodside Ave., Trenton, NJ  08618

Location: 
North Bridge St.
Somerville, NJ 08876-1262
United States

NJ Supreme Court: 5 Years in Prison for MS Patient Growing Marijuana

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

NJ Supreme Court: 5 Years in Prison for MS Patient Growing Marijuana

Family, senators and community seek pardon from Governor


Trenton, NJ – January 24, 2012 - Multiple sclerosis (MS) patient John Ray Wilson is preparing to resume his 5-year prison sentence after the state Supreme Court refused to hear his appeal on January 20. Attorney William Buckman called the result “wrongheaded and a vicious travesty.”

Wilson was arrested on August 18, 2008 and charged with “manufacturing” 17 marijuana plants that he used to treat his MS. Wilson faced 20 years in state prison for this crime.   

The jury was not allowed to hear details about Wilson's condition, essentially removing his only defense. In December 2009, Wilson was acquitted of the most serious charge but convicted of a second-degree charge of manufacturing marijuana. He was sentenced to five years in prison on March 19, 2010. Members of the community protested outside the courthouse in Somerville. 

On July 26, 2011, an appellate court ruling affirmed the conviction and sentencing. The court agreed with the trial judge there was no “personal use” exemption to the charge. They agreed that five years in prison for this crime was an appropriate sentence.

Governor Chris Christie ignored appeals from state Senators Nicholas Scutari and Raymond Lesniak seeking a pardon. The official pardon request to the Office of the Governor remains active.

 

“This is further proof that there is no justice for medical marijuana patients in New Jersey," said Ken Wolski, RN, executive director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey (CMMNJ).

MS is a qualifying condition for marijuana therapy in New Jersey according to the two-year-old Compassionate Use Act, but the state’s Medicinal Marijuana Program is not operational yet.

The National MS Society confirmed that standard therapies often provide inadequate relief for the symptoms of MS and that marijuana helps with MS symptoms such as pain and spasticity and could limit disease progression. An estimated 15% of people with the disease use marijuana for symptom relief.  

Chris Goldstein on the Board of Directors at CMMNJ said, "How many more seriously ill residents are we going to pay to send to prison? We call on Governor Chris Christie to demonstrate his compassion for qualifying medical marijuana patients and his commitment to a new stance on non-violent drug offenders by issuing a pardon for John Ray Wilson."

For more information about this release, please contact Ken Wolski (609) 394 2137 or Chris Goldstein (267) 702 3731.

CMMNJ, a 501(c)(3) public charity, is a non-profit educational organization.
Coalition for Medical Marijuana--New Jersey, Inc. www.cmmnj.org
219 Woodside Ave., Trenton, NJ  08618

Location: 
Trenton, NJ
United States

Use Science in Cases Alleging Pregnancy and Drug Use, Orgs and Experts Argue in Court Brief

National Advocates for Pregnant Women

www.advocatesforpregnantwomen.org

For Immediate Release:

Contact: Lynn Paltrow

January 10, 2012        

 

50 Leading Medical, Public Health and Child Welfare Organizations and Experts File Brief Insisting on Science not Stigma in Child Welfare Decisions Involving Pregnant Women and Allegations of Drug Use

 

Drug War Propaganda and Junk Science No Basis for Child Neglect and Abuse Finding

 

TRENTON, NJ (Jan. 10, 2012): On January 10, a group of fifty medical, public health and child welfare experts and advocates filed a motion to submit an amicus (friend of the court) brief before the state’s highest judicial authority challenging a finding of neglect against a mother identified in court records as “A.L.,” and an Appellate Division decision that radically expands the scope of the state’s civil child neglect and abuse laws to apply to a pregnant woman in relation to the fetus she carries and sustains. 

In this case, New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) v. A.L., A.L. gave birth to a healthy baby in September of 2007. DYFS argued that positive drug screens for cocaine on A.L. and her newborn were sufficient evidence of harm or imminent harm to find that A.L. had neglected her child.  A lower court and the Appellate Division agreed, not only finding neglect in this case but also declaring that a New Jersey’s neglect law could be applied to the context of pregnancy. On October 26, 2011, the New Jersey Supreme Court agreed to review the case.

In their brief, amici focus on the New Jersey Supreme Court’s commitment to the use of reliable scientific evidence in judicial decisionmaking. Amici argued that the lower courts relied on popular assumptions about drugs, pregnant women, and child welfare that lack any foundation in evidence-based, peer-reviewed research.

Lawrence S. Lustberg, Esq. of Gibbons P.C., co-counsel representing amici, explains that “the New Jersey Supreme Court has been a national leader in recognizing that when cases raise scientific, medical, or other technical issues, the evaluation of these issues must be informed by existing scientific knowledge, including expert testimony. This case should be no exception.”

Amici also note that DYFS presented no evidence that the child had suffered any actual injury at birth or at any time after birth, and presented no witnesses with expertise regarding the effects of prenatal exposure to cocaine, what drug test results mean, or the association between a pregnant woman’s drug use and a likelihood of abuse or neglect of a child once born.  Nor did DYFS present, or the lower courts consider, the vast body of medical and social science research on these questions.

“Pregnant women and children who are caught up in the child welfare system and who are disproportionately low-income and of color, no less than other people, deserve decisions that are grounded in evidence-based research,” said Emma S. Ketteringham, co-counsel in the case and Director of Legal Advocacy for amici National Advocates for Pregnant Women. Ms. Ketteringham added, “Pregnant women and families should not be deprived of their fundamental rights -- including the right to family relationships -- based on junk science, or no science at all.”

Expert amici explained to the court that medical research makes clear that numerous substances, conditions, and circumstances raise similar or greater risks to fetuses as prenatal exposure to cocaine.  While amici were careful to note that they were not suggesting that prenatal exposure to criminalized drugs is benign, they emphasized that current scientific evidence simply does not support judicially re-writing state law to allow for a per se finding of abuse or neglect based solely on evidence of a woman’s use of cocaine or other criminalized drugs during pregnancy.

Amici also noted that there is no research to support the idea that a positive drug test demonstrates harm, risk of harm, or a likelihood of neglect or abuse. They emphasized, however, that there is research finding that threats of punishment, including of loss of child custody, deter pregnant women from care, undermining rather than advancing maternal, fetal and child health.

Wendy Chavkin, MD, MPH, a physician and researcher who has written extensively about the issue of drug use and pregnancy, observed: “These issues have become caught up in other political battles.  It is critical that state agencies, like DYFS, and the court base their decision on scientific evidence, not on misinformation and stereotype.”

Ms. A. L. is represented by Clara Licata of the New Jersey Office of Parental Representation.

The amici organizations include: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Addiction Science Research and Education Center, American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry, American Society of Addiction Medicine, International Centre on Science in Drug Policy, International Doctors for Healthy Drug Policies, National Perinatal Association, National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, Child Welfare Organizing Project, Health Right International (Former Doctors of the World-USA), National Women’s Health Network.

A copy of amicus brief accompanying the motion to submit, including and a complete list of organizations and experts is available at:

http://advocatesforpregnantwomen.org/briefs/NJ%20DYFS%20v.%20AL%20Brief%20of%20Amici%20Curiae.pdf

Additional Resources:

Am. Coll. of Obstetricians & Gynecologists, Comm. on Health Care for Underserved Women, Committee Opinion 473, Substance Abuse Reporting and Pregnancy: The Role of the Obstetrician-Gynecologist

Don't Judge Pregnant Women Based on Junk Science

Location: 
Trenton, NJ
United States

Congress to Restore Federal Syringe Exchange Funding Ban as Part of 2012 Spending Package

Drug Policy Alliance

www.drugpolicy.org

For Immediate Release: December 16, 2011
Contact: Tony Newman or Bill Piper

Congress to Restore Federal Syringe Exchange Funding Ban as Part of 2012 Spending Package

Ban on Allowing States to Use HIV Prevention Money on Life-Saving Syringe Programs was Overturned in 2009 After 20-Year Struggle

Reinstatement of Ban will Lead to Thousands of New HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis C Cases Annually

As part of the 2012 spending package being voted on today, Congress is restoring a ban on using federal funding for syringe exchange programs that reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, and other infectious diseases. The ban, enacted in the 1980s and repealed in 2009, was largely responsible for hundreds of thousands of Americans contracting HIV/AIDS directly or indirectly from the sharing of used syringes. Advocates warn that restoring the ban will result in thousands of Americans contracting HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C or other infectious diseases next year alone.

“The federal syringe funding ban was costly in both human and fiscal terms – it is outrageous that Congress is restoring it given how overwhelming and clear the science is in support of making sterile syringes widely available,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Make no mistake about it – members of Congress who supported this ban have put the lives of their constituents in jeopardy.”

House Republicans passed restrictive language in three separate appropriations bills, and succeeded in getting two of three bans in the current House-Senate compromise omnibus for Fiscal Year 2012 being voted on today. In addition to the overarching ban on domestic use of federal funds contained in the Labor-HHS spending bill, House republicans also succeeded in imposing a ban on use of State Department funds for syringe access in international programs. In large parts of the world the HIV/AIDS epidemic is being driven by injection drug use. The international syringe funding ban will mean the global HIV/AIDS epidemic will continue to grow.

The existing federal syringe exchange policy, signed into law by President Obama in December of 2009, allows states and local public health officials to use federal funds for syringe access, in consultation and with the consent of  local law enforcement. The policy change is widely credited with having prevented thousands of new cases of HIV and Hepatitis C, thereby saving many lives and improving public health and safety.  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), American Medical Association, National Academy of Sciences, American Public Health Association, and numerous other scientific bodies have found that syringe exchange programs are highly effective at preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases. Increasing the availability of sterile syringes through exchange programs, pharmacies and other outlets also helps injection drug users obtain drug education and treatment. Eight federal reports have found that increasing access to sterile syringes saves lives without increasing drug use.

“We may have lost this battle, but we have just begun to fight,” said Piper. “The Republicans who insisted on restoring the ban, and the Democrats who didn’t fight hard enough to oppose it, will be responsible for thousands of Americans contracting HIV/AIDS or hepatitis C. We will make sure Americans know which members of Congress care about their health and well-being and which do not.”

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