1. U.S. Attorney General Confirms: No DEA Raids is “Now American Policy”
At a press conference on Feb 25, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told reporters that an end to federal interference in state medical cannabis laws, including raids on dispensaries, “is now American policy.”
The Attorney General’s comments reiterated the February 7th White House statement which responded to DEA raids in California after the President’s inauguration, and they indicate a sea change in the long-standing federal policy that prohibits the use of medical cannabis in the thirteen states that have enacted such laws. Americans for Safe Access had been the leading organization in the country pushing for an end to this interference, and because of the calls, letters, and other pressure from our members like you, the President has heard our calls and responded.
At the press conference, a reporter asked questions about DEA raids at medical cannabis facilities in California, to which Holder replied, “What the president said during the campaign, you’ll be surprised to know, will be consistent with what we’ll be doing in law enforcement. He was my boss during the campaign. He is formally and technically and by law my boss now. What he said during the campaign is now American policy.”
Seventy-two million Americans live in states where medical cannabis is legal, but federal law prohibits its use under any circumstances. More than 100 Americans are currently facing prosecution, sentencing, or serving time in prison for medical cannabis offenses right now. ASA hopes the emerging change in federal policy will signal an end to prosecutions and bring those already serving time for medical cannabis offenses home to their families.
“There has been a lot of collateral damage in the federal campaign against medical marijuana patients,” said Steph Sherer, Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access, the nation’s largest medical cannabis advocacy organization. “We need to stop the prosecutions, bring the prisoners home, and begin working to eliminate the conflict between state and federal medical marijuana laws.”
ASA provided recommendations for a new national medical cannabis policy to President Obama and the 111th Congress earlier this year. The reality of a U.S. President who is willing to listen to science and take seriously the suffering of patients has begun to set in across the country, leading to an increase it state level action and a growing sense of the progress in and out of California that will result from the President’s new policy.
2. San Diego Sting Operation Targets and Entraps Medical Cannabis Patients
San Diego city, county, and federal law enforcement leaders conducted a major drug sweep in military housing earlier this month, framing the 33 arrests, $19,000 in cash, seven guns and marijuana and narcotics seized as “protection for [our military] like they protect us.” But as reporters began to take a closer look at the investigations, they found that the “sting” organized by District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis largely targeted and “set up” legal medical cannabis patients and patient collective deliveries.
An investigative review of court records and interviews with defendants found that at least 14 were legal medical-cannabis patients with no military connection, and that these individuals only went to military housing because they were told to go there by undercover drug agents trying to set them up.
“Operation Endless Summer” was a 3 month investigation that resulted in the arrest of at least 14 patients who thought they were supplying cannabis to chronically ill people. According to defendant Donna Lambert, the undercover agent presented himself as a legitimate patient. “Yes, he was verified. And yes, he had the appropriate paperwork.” she said. Lambert, who is a cancer survivor and who runs a dispensing collective, faces up to four years in prison if convicted.
Even the question of military involvement was suspect. “I’m not in the military, and not a single person I know tried to sell to the military,” said Lambert.
At a Feb. 10th news conference, Dumanis, San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne, and other officials claimed that the operation was a response to community complaints of drug dealing in the area. However, court documents signed by investigators made no mention of any complaints about drug dealing from residents in the military neighborhoods.
Despite all of the evidence to the contrary and the highly suspect circumstances of the law enforcement action, District Attorney Dumanis stuck by her claim that all 33 suspects are serious drug offenders. “These were people who were preying on military housing, and the operation was designed to catch those people,” she said.
Dumanis came under fire last May after she ordered the arrests of 75 San Diego State University students, an action that made national news. Scores of people were labeled as serious drug offenders even though charges were never filed or eventually dismissed against at least 14 suspects, and most of the others received probation or diversion programs after admitting they sold or possessed only modest amounts of drugs.
3. Nevada County Approves Patient ID Cards
Nevada County supervisors this week finally approved initiating the state-mandated medical cannabis ID card program that will provide state issued ID cards to those patients who are qualified to use medical cannabis under California law.
The volunteer program was passed in a state law in 2003 with the intent of protecting chronically ill individuals from unnecessary arrests and making medical cannabis encounters easier on law enforcement. However, the program has received opposition from some holdout counties who did not want to provide the ID’s to the patient and instead chose not to follow state law.
San Diego and San Bernardino Counties filed suit against the state of California to avoid issuing th simple ideas, spending enormous sums of taxpayer dollars in a case litigated by Americans For Safe Access that affirmed the rights of patients throughout the California court system. The CA Supreme Court refused to hear the case, because of the lack of any justification to the counties’ claim.
Since these court rulings, which have affirmed that the counties must abide by state law, a few have still refused, prompting ASA to file suit against Solano County.
At the Tuesday board meeting, at least one patient who uses medical cannabis spoke, expressing relief that supervisors had finally approved the program — five years after it was made a state law.
4. State by State Update
Maine Dispensaries on the Ballot
Thanks to the hard work of hundreds of signature gatherers across the State of Maine, we have qualified our proposed ballot initiative for the November 2009 election. This means that Maine voters will now have the chance to vote in support of the rights of qualified patients to have full access to their medicine.
New Jersey Senate Approves Bill
This week, the Coalition for Medical Marijuana – New Jersey (CMMNJ) of the New Jersey Senate voted to pass the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act, 22-16. A companion bill, A804, is currently in the Assembly Health Committee, which held hearings on the bill last May, but had not called it for a vote. If the assembly passes the legislation, Gov. Jon Corzine (D) has promised to sign it into law, making New Jersey the 14th state to enact a medical cannabis law.
Montana Senate Moves Supports
Thanks to the work of ASA Affiliate Patients and Families United, the Montana Senate passed SB 326 on “third reading,” the critical final step needed to “transmit” the bill to the House in time for the second-half of the legislative session that begins next Monday. This brings to an end all marijuana-related legislative action during the first half of the session.
Thanks to hundreds of Montanans who have gotten involved and helped with persistence – Patients & Families United has earned a near-perfect record of success so far, with only one disappointment to date:
· We killed SB 212, the “patient blood-letting bill,” with a unanimous vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
· We killed HB 473 with a tied vote in the House Judiciary Committee.
· We killed HB 267, the prescription drug database monitoring bill.
· We failed to pass HB 73, which received a tie vote in the House Health Committee.
· The Senate passed SB 326, the most ambitious medical marijuana bill ever introduced in the Montana Legislature.
Colorado Board of Health to Impose Caregiver Limits
The Colorado Health Department is acting to restrict patient access to medical cannabis. On March 18, 2009, the Colorado Board of Health will be considering a proposed regulation change which would prohibit a medical marijuana patient from designating a particular individual as his or her caregiver if that particular caregiver has already been designated as such by five other medical marijuana patients (“Five Patient Policy”). The establishment of such a Policy is not in the best interest of the patient and is likely to result in serious, negative health consequences for these ill Coloradans. Sensible Colorado is organizing patients in opposition to the Board of Health Action.