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Media Advisory -- DOJ: Policy Statements on Medical Marijuana Don't Affect Federal Sentencing 4/23

MEDIA ADVISORY Americans for Safe Access For Immediate Release: April 21, 2009 DOJ: Policy Statements on Medical Marijuana Don't Affect Federal Sentencing Advocacy group to argue at 4/23 sentencing hearing that Lynch did not violate state law Los Angeles, CA -- Legal counsel for the advocacy organization Americans for Safe Access (ASA) will appear on behalf of Charles C. Lynch at his federal sentencing hearing on Thursday, April 23rd to challenge the federal government's claim of state law violations. Even though defendants are prevented from using a medical marijuana defense in federal court, they can argue state law compliance at sentencing. ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford will argue that Lynch in no way violated state law, something that U.S. Attorney Thomas O'Brien has alleged in his sentencing recommendations. At Lynch's previously scheduled sentencing hearing on March 23rd, federal district court Judge George H. Wu asked for written clarification from the U.S. Attorney General as to whether recent statements by that office would impact Lynch's sentencing. In a brief filed Friday, U.S. Attorney O'Brien stated that "the Deputy Attorney General has reviewed the facts of this case and determined that the investigation, prosecution, and conviction of defendant are entirely consistent with the policies of DOJ and with public statements made by the Attorney General with respect to marijuana prosecutions." Lynch's sentencing, which was originally postponed until April 30th, was changed by Judge Wu to April 23rd. What: Sentencing hearing for Charles C. Lynch at which state law compliance will be argued by Chief Counsel for medical marijuana advocates Americans for Safe Access When: Thursday, April 23rd at 10:30 a.m. Where: Los Angeles Federal Court, 312 N. Spring Street, Courtroom 10 "It's bad enough that the Justice Department is accusing Lynch of violating state law in order to sentence him in federal court," said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford. "But, there is not even any evidence that state law was violated." Despite a March 2008 public statement by then-Senator Obama that he was "not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws" on medical marijuana, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has since stated that the DOJ would still "go after those people who violate both federal and state law." Advocates contend that the federal government should not even be prosecuting violations of state medical marijuana law. "It's disingenuous to accuse people of state law violations and then prosecute them under federal law, thereby denying them an adequate defense in federal court," continued Elford. Because of the June 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Gonzales v. Raich, federal medical marijuana defendants are prohibited from entering evidence related to medical marijuana or their compliance with local and state laws. With more than two dozen pending federal medical marijuana cases, advocates are demanding that the government cease prosecutions or remove them to state court where evidence can properly be heard. Defense attorneys are seeking time served for Lynch, but he faces a mandatory minimum of 6 years and the possibility of up to 20 years in federal prison. Before his medical marijuana dispensary was raided by Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents in March of 2007, Lynch had operated for 11 months without incident, and with the blessing of the Morro Bay City Council, the local Chamber of Commerce, and other community members. Two months after Lynch closed his dispensary, Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers, he was indicted and charged with conspiracy to possess and possession with intent to distribute marijuana and concentrated cannabis, manufacturing more than 100 plants, knowingly maintaining a drug premises, and sales of marijuana to a person under the age of 21. None of the federal charges constitute violations of local or state law. Further information: DOJ Response to Judge Wu's request for clarification: http://www.safeaccessnow.org/downloads/DOJ_Lynch_Response.pdf Charles C. Lynch Interview with John Stossel: http://www.friendsofccl.com/johnstossel.htm Friends of Charles C. Lynch website: http://www.friendsofccl.com # # #
Location: 
Los Angeles, CA
United States

No Joke

You Can Make a Difference

 

Dear Friends,

Tell President Obama it's time for a serious debate about marijuana prohibition.


Email the president.

"I don’t know what this says about the online audience," joked President Obama during his first virtual town hall meeting. He was dismissing an idea submitted by tens of thousands of Americans: making marijuana legal.

This week, President Obama is visiting Mexico and seeing first hand the drug war violence that is spilling over our southern border, violence you and I know is fueled by marijuana prohibition.

Now that he’s seen what’s really happening, you have the chance to tell the president it's time for a serious discussion about the consequences of marijuana prohibition.

Thousands of people have been killed in the drug war in Mexico in the last couple of years. The drug traffickers are stockpiling machine guns and grenades and now are operating in hundreds of U.S. cities. This level of violence is the inevitable result of policies that create a lucrative black market.

You and I understand that ending marijuana prohibition would reduce violence and corruption the same way ending alcohol Prohibition did. I hope now that President Obama has seen the grisly consequences of marijuana prohibition first hand, he will no longer joke about marijuana law reform. Join me in telling him: This issue is deadly serious, and it's time to put all options on the table.

Sincerely,

Bill Piper
Director, Office of National Affairs
Drug Policy Alliance Network

 

 

ONDCP: Addiction Specialist Nominated as Assistant Drug Czar

The Obama administration announced last Friday it was naming a prominent addiction specialist to the number two post at the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), widely known as the drug czar's office. If confirmed by the Senate, University of Pennsylvania psychologist A. Thomas McLellan would be deputy director of ONDCP.

McLellan would serve under former Seattle police chief and yet-to-be-confirmed director of ONDCP, Gil Kerlikowske. The nominations of Kerlikowske, a progressive police executive not overtly hostile to drug law reform, and McLellan, a well-respected scientist and researcher, suggest that the Obama administration is moving away from the politicized and ideologically-driven ONDCP of the Bush years.

McLellan is considered a leading researcher on a broad range of issues related to addiction. Working at the Veterans Administration in the 1980s, he developed the addiction severity index and the treatment services review, two measures that characterized multiple dimensions of substance use. He later worked with the state of Delaware to tie payment for treatment at state-funded centers to predetermined measures of success.

In 1992, McLellan co-founded the Treatment Research Institute to study how to transform promising research findings into clinical practice. He is editor in chief of the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, and has published some 400 articles on various facets of addiction and treatment.

One of those was a groundbreaking 2000 article comparing drug addiction to other chronic medical conditions. In it, he urged consistent application of the disease model, noting that if diabetes patients relapsed after treatment, doctors would conclude that intervention had worked and more treatment was needed.

Drug addiction should be treated no differently, he suggested: "In contrast, relapse to drug or alcohol use following discharge from addiction treatment has been considered evidence of treatment failure," he wrote.

For those who view the disease model of addiction, humanely applied, as an improvement over arresting and imprisoning drug users, the McLellan nomination signals real potential progress. But for those who view the disease model as less an analog than a fuzzy metaphor, the nomination could signal the expansion of the therapeutic state in the name of our own good.

Feature: ASA in Federal Appeals Court Seeking to Force Government to Correct Medical Marijuana Misinformation

The medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access (ASA) was in federal appeals court Tuesday arguing that it and its members had the right to force the federal government to correct inaccurate statements about the therapeutic properties of marijuana. Lawyers for the Obama administration opposed them.

In 2004, ASA filed a petition under the Data Quality Act seeking to force the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to correct its statements that marijuana has no accepted medical use in the United States. The Data Quality Act requires federal government agencies to use reliable science when making regulations and disseminating information.

After two years of delays, HHS rejected ASA's petition. The group then filed suit in federal district court to force HHS to comply, but the trial judge threw out the lawsuit, finding that the act did not provide for judicial review. ASA then appealed to the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, which is where Tuesday's hearing took place.

"The science to support medical marijuana is overwhelming," said ASA executive director Steph Sherer. "It's time for the federal government to acknowledge the efficacy of medical marijuana and stop holding science hostage to politics."

The Obama administration has vowed to make science -- not ideology -- the basis for federal government policies. On March 9, President Obama issued a memorandum to all executive department and agency heads saying: "The public must be able to trust the science and scientific process informing public policy decisions," and calling for "transparency in the preparation, identification, and use of scientific and technological information in policymaking."

But it had other concerns last Tuesday, when Justice Department lawyers argued against ASA in court. Assistant US Attorney Alisa Klein told a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit that the law allowing private citizens to seek correction of government information had "no judicially enforceable rights" and that it requires only that agencies review such requests -- not that they act on them. Otherwise, she said, the courts would be swamped with requests to second-guess government decisions on a multitude of subjects.

The government's position would make the law meaningless, retorted Alan Morrison, founder of Public Citizen's Litigation Group, who argued the case along with ASA chief counsel Joe Elford. While some disputes are too subjective for courts to intervene, others can be measured objectively. "Two plus two is four, not five," Morrison noted. The law provides judges a role in keeping the government honest, he added.

Members of the three-judge panel seemed torn. "The statute is amazing and troubling," said Judge Marsha Berzon. But she told Klein that the law appears to allow people affected by government misinformation to get it corrected, under court order if necessary.

"The case before the 9th Circuit is about the right of private parties to seek action to challenge the government's dissemination of false information," said ASA spokesman Kris Hermes. "When HHS says on its web site that there is no currently accepted medical use of marijuana in the US, we and our members suffer by having to counter that disinformation. We have to educate the public, public officials, physicians, and lawyers on the reality of medical marijuana, and we are using that as giving us standing for the lawsuit."

ASA executive director Sherer herself claims to have suffered from government misinformation. In the group's brief to the appeals court, it relates how Sherer rejected medical marijuana as a treatment for her condition based on government statements it had no medical value. Only after suffering serious side effects from conventional medications and at her physician's urging did she finally try medical marijuana, and then found it brought her relief.

"Our aim is to correct the misinformation that the federal government is disseminating about medical marijuana, specifically that marijuana has no medicinal value," said ASA spokesman Kris Hermes. "We are using an administrative mechanism -- the Data Quality Act -- in order to achieve that, but the government has so far refused to respond substantively to our petition."

A victory at the 9th Circuit would mean that the ASA lawsuit could move forward. That would most likely mean the case would be remanded back to district court to force the federal government to issue a substantive response to the ASA petition.

"If they agree their information is inaccurate and not based on scientific evidence, they would simply correct the statements they are making," said Hermes. "But if they do not choose to admit that they are disseminating unscientific information, we may have to challenge them on the merits again in district court," he said.

While an eventual victory in the case would have no immediate impact on federal medical marijuana policy, said Hermes, it could help lay the foundations for moving marijuana off Schedule I as a dangerous drug with no accepted medical use. "That could be the first domino in a series of falling dominos that will affect federal policy," he said.

The 9th Circuit is now considering the case.

Feature: Mexico's Congress Hosts Forum on Marijuana Regulation, Decriminalization

President Obama flew into Mexico City Thursday to, among other things, restate his support for the existing drug war paradigm as he reiterated his backing for Mexican President Felipe Calderón's bloody war against Mexico's wealthy, powerful, and violent drug trafficking organizations, the so-called cartels. It's too bad he didn't schedule his trip for a few days earlier, because then he could have seen a new drug policy paradigm being born.

Earlier in the week, the Mexican Congress held a three-day debate on the merits of decriminalizing the personal use of marijuana. The debate, known as the Forums on the Regulation of Cannabis in Mexico, brought together government officials, elected representatives, academics and experts in a lively discussion of Mexican marijuana policy.

Although Mexico is a socially conservative country, and marijuana use is popularly -- if unfairly -- associated with lower-class criminality, the blood-stained fall-out from President Calderón's war against the cartels is creating social and political space for reform discussions that would have been impossible a decade ago. Since Calderón unleashed the Mexican army against the cartels at the beginning of 2007, the death toll has climbed to more than 10,000, and the spectacular, exemplary violence has shocked Mexican society.

While President Calderón has proposed legislation that would offer pot smokers treatment instead of jail, Calderón and his ruling conservative National Action Party (PAN) have stopped short of calling for legalization or decriminalization. The left-leaning Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) supports decriminalization, while the smaller Social Democratic Party (PSD) has called for the decriminalization of the possession of all drugs.

In 2006, Calderón's predecessor, Vicente Fox, moved to pass decriminalization legislation. But he pulled the bill after being pressured by the US.

While Obama has not weighed in on marijuana legalization or decriminalization in Mexico, the DEA has. Either course would mark "a failure" of US and Mexican drug policy, DEA chief of intelligence Anthony Placido told El Universal Wednesday. "The legalization of marijuana in Mexico would create more misery and more addicts," he said. Nor would it weaken the cartels, he argued; instead, they would simply shift their attention to other illegal activities.

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''Global Marijuana Day'' demonstration in Mexico City, May 2008
PSD Deputy Elsa Conde last year introduced three bills that would legalize medical marijuana, legalize hemp, and decriminalize marijuana possession, but the debate in Congress this week does not pertain to any particular piece of legislation. Instead, it lays the groundwork for future policy changes. Lawmakers have said they wanted to hear various viewpoints before considering any changes in the law.

Even the ruling PAN appears open to some sort of reform. "It's clear that a totally prohibitive policy has not been a solution for all ills," said Interior Department official Blanca Heredia. "At the same time, it's illusory to imagine that complete legalization of marijuana would be a panacea."

When it came to marijuana, said Heredia, neither total legalization nor prohibition should be the policy, but something in between. "Every new solution is necessarily partial," she said. "Every decision runs risks and brings with it new problems. We have to try to balance things carefully, to rigorously analyze the impact that different proposals would have on the drug market and the organized crime industry."

Javier González Garza, leader of the left-leaning Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) in the Chamber of Deputies, said that while he favored decriminalizing marijuana, the topic should be discussed separately from other types of drugs, such as cocaine, heroin, and the synthetics.

"What we don't want is the criminalization of our youth for consuming or carrying marijuana," said González. "That is the central point. If we made consuming or carrying marijuana a serious crime, there aren't enough jails in Mexico to hold everybody."

While the politicians talked politics, others took the discussion to loftier realms. Philosopher Rodolfo Vázquez Cardoso questioned whether it is ethically justifiable to criminalize the possession of drugs for personal use. He noted that while the theme of most discussion was the harmful effects of drug use, the central theme should instead be that of freedom.

"There is no legitimate objective of the judicial system to promote good living or virtue because that enters into conflict with the capacity of each individual to choose freely and rationally how to live his life and choose the ideals of virtue in accord with his own preferences," said Vázquez. Drug prohibition, he added, is based on "repressive paternalism" and violates the principle of personal autonomy.

For Ana Paula Hernández of the Angélica Foundation, human rights and the rule of law were key concerns. She cited the "unmeasured militarization of the country as a consequence of the war against organized crime" and warned that those most affected by the drug war were the poor peasant communities that were "the weakest link" of the drug production chain.

"These ideas about controlling prohibited drugs are innovative," said political scientist and drug policy expert Luis Astorga. "When it comes to drugs, we don't have to follow the path of the United States, which hasn't worked. We need to develop ideas and policies distinct from those of the US. We have a very good opportunity to do something independent, as they have in Europe and Canada," he said.

But Armando Patrón Vargas of the National Council Against Addiction in the Health Department said decriminalization wasn't necessary because Mexico doesn't criminalize drug addiction. "I don't see any urgent need to modify the status [of marijuana] and decriminalize use," he told the forum. The Mexican government guarantees treatment of addicts, he said, even if the investment in treatment is inadequate.

Dr. Humberto Brocca, a student of herbal and traditional medicine and a member of the pro-reform Grupo Cáñamo (Cannabis Group) told the forum it was time to end the prejudice and social stigma against pot smokers and urged legislators to be fearless in moving toward regulation "because fear is not a good advisor."

Brocca told the Chronicle Wednesday that while he did not expect quick change in the drug laws, the forum was a start. "It means that society is demanding some truth about important issues," he said.

Even the half-measure of decriminalization would make a big difference, he said. "It would take cannabis out of the criminal circuit and it would lower prices and guarantee good quality," Brocca said. "It would also remove cannabis from its role of rebellious banner for youth, thus making it less attractive for them. It would also help law enforcement to not waste its time on petty issues and focus on important ones, like going after the traffickers. And it would liberate the many people who currently serve time for nothing."

Mexico's lawmakers have had their chance to discuss marijuana law reform. Now it is time to craft and pass the necessary legislation to put those reforms in place. But with mid-term elections coming up in a couple of months, little is likely to happen before then.

Free Speech: Grand Jury Subpoenas Prominent Pain Relief Advocate Who Has Criticized the Prosecution of a Kansas Physician

Siobhan Reynolds, head of the pain patient and doctor advocacy group the Pain Relief Network, has been targeted for a grand jury investigation of obstruction of justice for her role in supporting a Kansas physician and his wife in their legal battle against federal prosecutors who accuse them of unlawfully prescribing pain relief medications at their clinic.

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Siobhan Reynolds at 2004 Congressional briefing
Reynolds, a tireless activist for the cause of adequately treating chronic pain, publicly questioned the government's case against Steve and Linda Schneider and worked to support their defense. That must have aroused the ire of Assistant US Attorney Tanya Treadway, who is prosecuting the case, because this isn't the first time Treadway has tried to shut Reynolds up.

Last July, Treadway sought a gag order barring Reynolds and the Schneiders from talking to the press and another order barring Reynolds from talking to "victims" and witnesses in the case. The judge hearing the case, US District Court Judge Monti Belot, denied that motion to stifle dissent.

At the time, Treadway said in court documents that Reynolds had a "sycophantic or parasitic relationship" with the Schneiders and alleged that she was using the case to further the Pain Relief Network's political agenda and her own personal interests. Reynolds and the Pain Relief Network advocate against federal prosecutions of pain relief doctors, whom they see as victims of overzealous federal prosecutors and DEA agents who know little about proper medical care standards.

Now, Treadway is at it again. In a subpoena made available to the Associated Press, she demands that Reynolds turn over all correspondence with attorneys, patients, Schneider family members, doctors, and others related to the Schneider case. She also demands that Reynolds turn over bank and credit card statements showing payments to or from clinic employees, patients, potential witnesses and others.

The feisty Reynolds has no intention of complying. Instead, she has filed a motion seeking to throw out the grand jury subpoena. In that motion, she argues that forcing her to turn over such information would destroy her work as a political activist and violate her First Amendment rights to free speech and association.

She told the AP she would go to jail before turning over any documents. "This is an attempt to silence and intimidate me. I am going to fight it as far as I need to," she said. "If I were to give in here, lawful advocacy against the United States in court will effectively be brought to an end. So... a lot is at stake here."

Obama Declares War on American Drug Users

Speaking in Mexico today, President Obama embraced the exact hard-line drug war philosophy he rejected on the campaign trail:

Obama acknowledged that the United States shares responsibility for bloodshed and kidnappings in Mexico that have spilled across the border into the United States. Acknowledging that U.S. drug use fuels the cartels, Obama said, "I will not pretend this is Mexico's responsibility alone."

"We have a responsibility as well, we have to do our part," Obama said. He said the U.S. must crack down on drug use and the flow of weapons into Mexico. [AP]

Specifically, he said, "We have to crack down on drug use in our cities and towns," and while I've been accused at times of giving Obama too much credit when it comes to drug policy, there's just no silver lining in any of this. A crackdown is a crackdown. Anyone who talks that way is a full-blown drug warrior. He's always talked tough when it comes to Mexico, but this flat-out endorsement of busting drug users here at home is a new low.

Thus, Obama becomes a rather peculiar specimen as far as drug war politics are concerned. This is a guy who's talked about decriminalizing marijuana and "shifting the model" in the war on drugs, only to then take a step backwards after achieving enough to power to actually move those ideals forward in a meaningful way. Some have questioned his sincerity all along, but I don't. Drug policy reform just makes sense, so when I hear someone talking about it, I assume they understand the words coming out of their own mouth.

…which brings me to the tragic conclusion that Obama is doing all of this even though he knows it's wrong. Lives are being lost in a brutal and escalating war, while billions are being wasted away during an escalating economic meltdown, and he's opting to fan the flames rather than show real leadership. It's arguably even more disgraceful than what we've seen from our opponents in the past, because Obama bears the burden of knowing the truth.

Regardless of whatever the hell is going on in the President's head, it is just a fact that the American people have never been so sick of the war on drugs as they are this exact moment. There is a national dialogue about our drug policy taking place in the press on a daily basis, fueled to no small extent by Obama's own hypocrisy and intransigence. Determined though he may be to repeat the mistakes of his predecessors, Obama will not escape scrutiny as they did. That much is already clear.

Press Release -- Obama in Mexico: Marijuana on the Agenda?

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE   
APRIL 15, 2009

Obama in Mexico: Marijuana on the Agenda?

In Possible Rebuke to Obama, Mexico's Ambassador Said an End to Marijuana Prohibition "Needs to Be Taken Seriously"

CONTACT: Bruce Mirken, MPP director of communications ............... 415-585-6404 or 202-215-4205

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- With President Obama leaving for talks with Mexican President Felipe Calderon on Thursday, marijuana policy reformers are wondering if the role of U.S. marijuana laws in subsidizing vicious Mexican drug gangs will get the serious attention that Mexico's ambassador to the U.S. recently said it deserves. Obama's visit comes immediately after Mexico's Congress held a historic debate on ending marijuana prohibition.

     "In his only public statement on the issue since taking office, President Obama treated the question of ending marijuana prohibition as a joke, but the families of the 7,000 murdered by Mexican drug gangs know it's not funny," said Marijuana Policy Project executive director Rob Kampia. "By refusing to bring the massive marijuana industry out of the shadows and regulate it as we do beer, wine and liquor, we've handed a massive subsidy to some of the most brutal thugs on the planet."

     In an April 12  discussion of Mexico's brutal drug cartels on CBS's "Face the Nation," Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan was asked by host Bob Schieffer, "What if marijuana were legalized? Would that change this situation?"

     Rather than dismissing the idea as President Obama did in his recent online town hall meeting, Sarukhan said, "This is a debate that needs to be taken seriously, that we have to engage in on both sides of the border."

     "Ambassador Sarukhan got it exactly right," said MPP director of government relations Aaron Houston. "The public in both countries is ready for a serious discussion about the marijuana laws that are directly aiding the murderous gangs that are killing people daily and now operate in 230 U.S. cities. It's time for Presidents Obama and Calderon to show the sort of decisive leadership that's needed to get both of our countries out of this mess."

     With more than 27,000 members and 100,000 e-mail subscribers nationwide, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States. MPP believes that the best way to minimize the harm associated with marijuana is to regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. For more information, please visit http://MarijuanaPolicy.org.

####

Media Advisory: Federal Position on Medical Marijuana Put Before Ninth Circuit Today

MEDIA ADVISORY Americans for Safe Access For Immediate Release: April 14, 2009 Contact: 510-251-1856 x307 Federal Position on Medical Marijuana Put Before Ninth Circuit Tuesday Federal hearing is latest battle on whether policy is based on science or politics San Francisco, CA -- Medical marijuana advocates will get to argue before the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday, April 14th, the right to challenge an outdated position held by the federal government: "marijuana has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States." The national advocacy group Americans for Safe Access (ASA) filed a lawsuit in February 2007 demanding that the federal government cease issuing misinformation and correct its statements on medical marijuana. "We welcome the Obama Administration's recently stated commitment to making policy decisions based on science, not politics," said Joe Elford, Chief Counsel with ASA. "This case is designed to ensure that the federal government's policy on medical marijuana is not politically motivated." What: Oral arguments in a case before the Ninth Circuit that challenges the government's position on medical marijuana When: Tuesday, April 14, 2009 at 9:30 a.m. Where: Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Courtroom 4 at 95 Seventh Street, San Francisco, CA In order to challenge the government's position, advocates are using a little-known law called the Data Quality Act (DQA). The DQA requires federal agencies such as Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to rely on sound science when disseminating information to the public. One of the main issues in the case is whether citizens have a right to challenge government information believed to be inaccurate or based on faulty, unreliable data. "The science to support medical marijuana is overwhelming," said ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer. "It's time for the federal government to acknowledge the efficacy of medical marijuana and stop holding science hostage to politics." On March 9, 2009, President Obama issued a memorandum to the heads of executive departments and agencies stating that, "The public must be able to trust the science and scientific process informing public policy decisions," and calling for "transparency in the preparation, identification, and use of scientific and technological information in policymaking." The original DQA petition was filed in October of 2004, aimed at forcing the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) -- the FDA's parent agency -- to correct statements about the medical value of marijuana. After more than two years of delay by the federal government and a refusal to act on the petition, a lawsuit was filed in February of 2007. Despite a rejection by the federal district court in late 2007, Science Magazine published an editorial that year claiming that HHS had "violated its own DQA guidelines." Preeminent legal scholar Alan Morrison, who founded Public Citizen's Litigation Group and who currently teaches at American University's Washington College of Law, is co-counsel in the case and will be arguing before the court on behalf ASA and patients across the country. "Citizens have a right to expect the government to be transparent and to use the best available information for policy decisions," said Morrison. "Unfortunately, so far, the government has been anything but transparent and has failed to produce any evidence for its policy statements on medical marijuana." In April 2006, while ASA was awaiting a response to the petition from HHS, the FDA issued a statement claiming that it conducted an "inter-agency review" and had "concluded that no sound scientific studies supported medical use of marijuana..." However, none of the alleged scientific evidence used to reach that conclusion was ever provided to ASA or the public. Further information: DQA Opening Appeal Brief: http://AmericansForSafeAccess.org/downloads/DQA_Appeal_Brief.pdf President Obama's memorandum on scientific integrity: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Memorandum-for-the-Heads-of-E... DQA Background info: http://www.safeaccessnow.org/DQA
Location: 
San Francisco, CA
United States

Drug War Chronicle Book Review: "Cool Madness: The Trial of Dr. Mollie Fry and Dale Schafer," by Vanessa Nelson (2008, MMA Publishing, 353 pp., $19.95 pb.)

[Order "Cool Madness" by making a donation to StoptheDrugWar.org and specificying "Cool Madness" as your requested membership premium.]

UC Berkeley-trained journalist Vanessa Nelson has found a niche for herself reporting on medical marijuana prosecutions in California. One can only hope it will not be a lasting niche; that the events of which she is reporting will soon be the stuff of history, a quaint reminder of what is was like to live in the bad old days.

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But as the recent DEA raid on a San Francisco dispensary suggests, the era of mindless persecution by the federal government of medical marijuana patients and providers is not over yet -- despite the nice words coming from Attorney General Holder. Other California medical marijuana providers are currently serving prison terms, some are waiting to be sentenced, and some are in the midst of appeals. All of them are facing (or already enduring) harsh federal sentencing laws for the crime of trying to help their fellow sufferers.

The case of Dr. Mollie Fry and her husband, attorney Dale Schafer, is among the most outrageous. A physician residing in the Sierra Nevada foothills town of Cool (thus the title) who came to embrace the therapeutic benefits of cannabis after a bout with breast cancer, Dr. Fry became an enthusiastic advocate of the herb, recommending it for patients, and, with the help of her husband, encouraging them to grow their own (and even selling them starter kits), and trying -- not very successfully -- to grow it themselves.

Fry and Schafer had consulted with local law enforcement and thought they were safe from prosecution, but they were naïve and mistaken, as started to become evident on September 26, 2001, when their home and offices were raided by aggressive DEA agents, and a whopping 34 marijuana plants seized. [Ed: This is what federal law enforcement had time to spend on, barely two weeks after major terrorist attacks on two US cities.]

Then, as is often the case with DEA medical marijuana raids, nothing happened, as if the bust had disappeared into limbo. That is, nothing happened until the US Supreme Court came down on the side of the federal government in the Raich case in 2005. Within a matter of days, Fry and Schafer found themselves indicted and arrested on federal marijuana manufacture and distribution charges.

Oddly enough, the 34 plants seized had somehow morphed into more than 100 plants in the government's case. That makes an important difference -- the difference between a short sentence, or even probation, and a mandatory minimum sentence of at least five years. And that's what Assistant US Attorney Anne Pings was determined to get when Fry and Schafer finally went to trial on August 1, 2007.

Nelson provides a blow-by-blow account of the proceedings, from the defense's selection of famed defense attorney Tony Serra and his less flamboyant but equally dogged co-counsel Laurence Lichter to the bail hearing after they were convicted. In so doing, she has crafted a gripping narrative tale more akin to a page-turning novel than a dry and dusty trial transcript.

Not only is the narrative gripping, it is also infuriating for anyone sympathetic to the medical marijuana movement or who holds to the notion that trials are about justice. With Serra and Lichter forbidden to even mention medical marijuana, as is typically the case in those federal medical marijuana trials, that the prosecution would win convictions was almost a foregone conclusion to anyone other than those medical marijuana supporters so blinded by the righteousness of their cause that they couldn't see the approaching freight train. That didn't stop the defense duo from repeatedly trying to introduce the topic, leading to rapid-fire prosecution objections, repeated sidebars, and courtroom fire-works. Still, the jury that heard the case got only the faintest hints of what it was really all about.

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Fry, Schafer and family at August 2007 demonstration (courtesy indybay.org)
There were some real villains in this little drama, and some buffoons. (While Nelson was clearly sympathetic to the defendants, the following characterizations are mine, not hers.) Prosecutor Pings spared no tactic, no innuendo, no insinuation in trying to convince the jury that Fry and Schafer were money-hungry dope dealers, even going so far as to tell the jury they advertised their services on a rock radio station! Nor was she in the least reluctant to intimidate and threaten former employees facing their own legal problems into turning state's evidence and portraying the couple as mercenary marijuana peddlers. Actions like those may make Pings an effective prosecutor, but they also paint her as a terrible human being, willing to do whatever it takes to send some harmless people to prison.

Another villain worth noting was a Sergeant Ashworth of the El Dorado County Sheriff's Department. At Fry and Schafer's request, Ashworth visited their properties repeatedly, enjoying their hospitality and assuring them they were acting within the law. But by the summer of 2001, when he got done sipping coffee with Dr. Fry he was reporting to the DEA. Even worse, Ashworth actively encouraged the couple to grow another crop that year, getting the prosecution to the magic 100 plant number. This kind of sleazy, backstabbing behavior deserves a response. In this case, it seems the appropriate response would be to vote his boss out of office and send Ashworth out to patrol the dog pound.

As for the buffoons, the sobriquet was earned by the DEA agents on the case, from the supervisor who seemed exceedingly clueless about the things he was testifying about to the DEA undercover agent who infiltrated medical marijuana meetings where no pot was smoked and worried that he was getting a contact high just from being there. In an even more unbelievable, but revealing, example of DEA buffoonery, Nelson relates the story of two agents at the trial who, upon heading to the court house parking lot to get in their car to go to lunch, saw a member of the medical marijuana community attending the trial walk toward that very same parking lot (!) and assumed they were being stalked. The spooked agents fled the scene on foot and called their supervisors for back-up, only to be laughed at and told to go back and get their vehicle.

The DEA guys may be idiots and the prosecutor may be a nasty person, but behind them was the full power of the federal government. Nelson's account is a very disturbing window into just how these villains and bozos managed to wield that power. Again, this should be a wake-up call for those who think federal medical marijuana prosecutions have anything to do with justice.

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