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Feature: NORML Annual Conference Meets in Atmosphere of Hope, Determination, and Exhilaration

Riding a wave of enthusiasm about increasing prospects for marijuana law reform, hundreds of people poured into the Grand Hyatt Hotel in downtown San Francisco last Thursday for the 38th annual national conference of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). By the time it ended with a Saturday night NORML benefit, the conference had left most attendees even more energized than when they arrived.

Gathering under the slogan "Yes, We Cannabis" and sensing a fresh breeze blowing since the inauguration of President Barack Obama, conference organizers, speakers, and attendees spent three days in sessions devoted to medical marijuana issues, the prospects for legalization in California (and beyond), the change in public attitudes around marijuana, what parents should tell kids about pot, and much, much more.

The conference was California-centric, but understandably so. Not only was a California city the host for the conference, the Golden State's constantly mutating medical marijuana industry is creating an omnipresent and accessible distribution system, and California is now the home of four competing marijuana legalization initiative campaigns and a similar effort in the state legislature.

In between (and sometimes during) sessions, the pungent odor of pot smoke hung in the air over the Hyatt's outdoor patio as patients medicated and non-patients just plain got high. Hippie attire abounded, but in contrast to the stoner stereotypes, there were plenty of people in suits and ties toking away, too.

At least three newsworthy items came out of the conference:

  • At a Saturday press conference, Oaksterdam University head Richard Lee, the leading proponent of the legalization initiative most likely to actually make the November 2010 ballot -- because it has Lee's financial backing -- announced the formal beginning of signature gathering for the Regulate, Control, and Tax Cannabis Act, which would allow California cities and counties the local option to legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and a 25-square foot garden. Accompanied by former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper, "Marijuana Is Safer" author Mason Tvert, and fellow initiative proponent Jeff Jones, Lee also announced the measure's endorsement by former state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, who is running for mayor of Oakland.
  • State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-SF), author of Assembly Bill 390, which would legalize the possession, growing, and sale of marijuana for people 21 or over, announced Friday that he will hold an informational hearing on his bill. The date is tentatively set for October 28 at the capitol in Sacramento. The current political climate has created a "perfect storm" for marijuana law reform, he said. "It's certainly connected to California's economy, which is in the toilet," he added.
  • Oakland City Council member and medical marijuana supporter Rebecca Kaplan (D) announced Saturday that the city is preparing to issue permits for medical marijuana growing and processing operations and for medical marijuana edibles production. The city already has issued permits to four dispensaries, and voters there this summer approved a dispensary-led initiative to add a special medical marijuana tax on them. "We gave permits for a federal felony for the dispensaries, and they didn't bust them -- even under Bush," she said. "We protected them." And now, Oakland is set to expand those protections to other sectors of the industry.

"There is no doubt that today, Sept. 25, 2009, is the moment of genuine zeitgeist to decriminalizing marijuana in America," said NORML executive director Allen St. Pierre as the conference opened. "This conference represents that we are at that tipping point."

But where the movement goes from here was open to heated and healthy debate. Thursday's sessions, which were devoted primarily to the intricacies of medical marijuana dispensing in California, saw detailed discussion of the minutiae of defining collectives and co-ops and operating within state law and the state attorney general's guidelines, but they also saw calls from some leading voices warning about the medicalization of marijuana.

Dr. Frank Lucido, a leading medical marijuana advocate, while lauding the work of the medical marijuana movement, said the weed should really be treated like an over-the-counter herbal supplement. "This should be out of the hands of doctors and in the hands of herbalists," he argued.

Similarly, Steven DeAngelo of the Harborside Health Center, an Oakland dispensary, pointed out that California's medical marijuana distribution system is creating a situation where "cannabis consumption is part of the mainstream." In a speech delivered at the conference, he argued that effective medical marijuana laws are paving the way for a day where medical recommendations are not required to obtain cannabis legally. "Most over-the-counter drugs are far more harmful than marijuana, but there are no restrictions on them," he said. "Let's not waste medical resources on something that doesn't require them."

But the most heated debates were around what is the best path toward outright legalization in California. With several initiatives and an assembly bill all in play, opinion was deeply divided on whether to wait for the legislative process to work its way, to support the Oaksterdam initiative -- which was almost universally considered the most conservative of the initiatives, but which also has the best chance of making the ballot -- or to support one of the competing initiatives.

Joe Rogosin, one of three Northern California defense attorneys who authored the California Cannabis Initiative, admitted that his initiative lacked the deep pockets of the Oaksterdam initiative, but argued that it was still superior to the Oakland effort. It repeals all state laws forbidding people 21 and over from possessing, growing, or selling marijuana.

"We don't want people to go to jail for cannabis," Rogosin said. "Unlike Richard's, our initiative actually legalizes cannabis."

While contending camps were fighting over who had the best initiative, other movement members were warning that none of them were likely to pass. Marijuana Policy Project executive director Rob Kampia said that his group would not be devoting substantial resources to the initiatives and would not formally endorse them, but would render what low-budget aid it could if one of them actually makes the ballot.

California NORML head Dale Gieringer was blunt in his assessment of the measures' chances. "I don't expect any of them to pass," he said flatly.

As always, California pot politics is in turmoil, and while circular firing squads are not quite forming, the movement is in danger of shooting itself in the foot if it fails to get behind an initiative that makes the ballot -- or if it does get behind an initiative and that initiative loses badly at the ballot box.

There was, of course, much more going on at the NORML conference. Check out the NORML web site for updates with conference content. And keep an eye on California, because marijuana reform is one hot topic there now.

He was in a wheelchair!

You Can Make a Difference


Dear friends,

Don't let San Diego's district attorney get away with hurting medical marijuana patients!

Take Action
Sign the petition

You won’t believe what’s happening on your dime!

San Diego law enforcement called in the DEA this month to assist with SWAT-style raids of 14 medical marijuana dispensaries.  Local and federal authorities arrested dozens of people and physically accosted at least one patient.  We have to stop the district attorney behind this persecution campaign!

News footage even shows local police pulling a handcuffed patient out of his wheelchair. 

Sign the petition calling for California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown to rein in the district attorney who orchestrated the raids.

San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis has long defied California's medical marijuana law.  Now she's using federal resources to crack down on dispensaries and aid her re-election campaign.

Don’t let a rogue prosecutor and the DEA use any more of your tax dollars to hurt patients and harass the people who provide their medicine.  Join me in urging the governor and attorney general to hold Dumanis accountable.


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


San Diego, CA
United States

Medical Marijuana Sales Are Increasing. So What's the Problem?

I just read this USA Today article, Booming medical pot sales concern officials, and there's something missing. I get that there's lots of marijuana being sold in California and that the cops don’t like it, but so what? The article never actually explains why any of this is a bad thing. If the author thinks I can figure that out for myself, he screwed up, because the whole thing sounds great to me.

The last line quotes a cop complaining about people who look "very healthy" buying marijuana. I'm still trying to figure out what the problem is. Healthy people are a sign that the medicine works and everything is going well. Quit spying on healthy people and go help someone in need. This is ridiculous.

Opponents of Medical Marijuana Are Getting Lonely and Discouraged

I like this post from Pete Guither about a small group of Californians plotting to fight back against the medical marijuana movement. The odds are stacked against them in that the public opposes them, they keep losing in court and they don’t have any money to fund their advocacy efforts.

I can't help but think that this is how drug policy reformers must have felt during the Reagan years. It's amazing that we've come so far now, our opponents are the ones bunkered down trying to figure out a way to stop the momentum of marijuana reform.

When Cops Play Doctor

Feature: What's the Matter With San Diego? Another Round of Medical Marijuana Raids and Arrests Hit "America's Finest City"

San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis claims to be a friend of medical marijuana, but one would be hard-pressed to find anyone in the local medical marijuana community who would agree with her. This "friend" coordinated mass raids against medical marijuana dispensaries there in 2006, again in February of this year, and yet again just last week.
courthouse demonstration (courtesy William West,
It is part and parcel of a pattern of bitter, recalcitrant refusal on the part of San Diego county officials to abide by the will of the voters and accept the state's medical marijuana law. The conservative county Board of Commissioners is notorious for its opposition to medical marijuana, going so far as pursuing a quixotic and costly legal challenge to state laws, which it lost in every court that heard it.

On Tuesday, the Board unanimously extended for 10 months a moratorium on new dispensaries in unincorporated areas of the county. After its court challenge to the state law was defeated, the Board is now grudgingly allowing staff to develop regulations for dispensaries, but in the meantime, DA Dumanis is picking them off in batches.

The city of San Diego has been a bit more friendly. Last week, just one day before Dumanis' raiders struck, the City Council voted to implement a task force to create recommendations for regulating collectives and co-ops in accordance with guidelines issued earlier this year by the state attorney general. But if the City Council is working with the medical marijuana community, the San Diego Police Department is not. Instead, it has joined forces with Dumanis and her conservative cronies to attack the dispensaries.

Last week's raids shuttered 14 dispensaries in San Diego, the North County, and South Bay, and resulted in 33 arrests -- 31 under state charges and two under federal charges -- including wheelchair-bound patients hauled away by armed and uniformed law enforcement agents. Dumanis assembled squads of San Diego Police, San Diego County Sheriff's officers, DEA agents, and IRS agents to swoop down on the dispensaries, make arrests, seize cash and medicine, and disrupt the local medical marijuana distribution system.

While the DEA was present, last week's raids were Dumanis's baby. Only two of those arrested face federal charges.

"It was a joint investigation with the sheriff's department and the police department," said San Diego DEA spokeswoman Amy Roderick. "We were asked for our assistance. We were not at every location."

Roderick declined to spell out how DEA San Diego is interpreting the current Justice Department position on not pursuing medical marijuana providers in states where it is legal unless they are in violation of state law. "I can't comment on policy," she said. "It's not made by the DEA."

"Like most San Diegans, I support the use of legitimate and legal medical marijuana use," Dumanis said at a press conference touting the busts. "However, it appears these so-called 'marijuana dispensaries' are nothing more than for-profit storefront drug dealing operations run by drug dealers hiding behind the state's medical marijuana law."
Donna Lambert (courtesy William West,
"We're not surprised at all, but very disappointed," said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, deputy state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "What Dumanis is doing is simply unacceptable. If she has legitimate concerns about how dispensaries are operating, whether they're operating as collectives, she could use civil actions, she could use letters and accountants. There is no call for bringing in the DEA, arresting people in wheelchairs, scaring the hell out of patients, and shutting off medical marijuana access for very sick people. It's her tactics that we're really concerned with," she said.

"But also her misrepresentations to the public of what she's doing and her unproductive strategy of pointing out what she says is illegal, but not saying what is legal," Dooley-Sammuli continued. "Collective operators are doing their best to comply with the law, but she doesn't have answers for them. People have gone out of their way to follow the guidelines, but got raided anyway."

I don't think Bonnie Dumanis has ever seen a legal dispensary in 13 years," said Dion Markgraff, San Diego coordinator for Americans for Safe Access "She can't follow the plain language of the law, but instead she holds some impossible standard that no one else knows about," he said.

"We're on the front lines of the most terrorist county in the whole state," Markgraff continued. "The DA is sending in cops who lied to doctors to get valid recommendations, and then busting dispensaries that are operating according to the law. At worst, maybe somebody didn't file this or that piece of paper or had a zoning issue, but there was certainly nothing criminal."

Markgraff himself has had a taste of the DA's bitter medicine. "I was raided two months ago for 32 immature plants," he related. "My girlfriend and I both have medical marijuana recommendations, and I had a state caregiver card. The cops laughed at my card, then stole it. They took everything, they arrested me and my girlfriend, they took my kid, they gave us both $130,000 bail. Now we're fighting this Kafkaesque, Orwellian system where the prosecutors and the judges don't give a shit about legality."

There was nothing unique about police seizing his daughter, Markgraff said. "They do it all the time. The first thing they say is 'we're going to take your kids if you don't plead.' When they're using your kids as leverage, that's really ugly," he said.

"We have not, and will not prosecute people who are legitimately and legally using medical marijuana," Dumanis said at the press conference. "It's a shame that a few illegal drug dealers are trampling on the compassion shown by voters in passing California's medical marijuana law."

Medical marijuana patient and now criminal defendant Donna Lambert begs to differ. She joined a 10-person medical marijuana collective after the 2006 raids that disrupted supplies. "I provided medical marijuana to a valid qualified patient who was an undercover cop who lied to a doctor to get a doctor's recommendation," said Lambert, who was one of 14 people arrested in the Operation Green RX raids conducted in February. "There was no dispute about my patient status or his patient status."

In Operation Green RX, as many as ten detectives spent six months becoming qualified medical marijuana patients on fraudulent grounds and then joining medical marijuana collectives. Undercover San Diego Police Detective Scott Henderson lied to a doctor to obtain a valid medical marijuana recommendation and then reached out to Ms. Lambert for help. When, believing she was lawfully helping another patient, she supplied him with medical marijuana, Lambert became yet another of Dumanis' victims.
San Diego demonstration against 'Operation Green RX' (courtesy William West,
Lambert, a 47-year-old San Diego resident, began relying on marijuana to cope with chemotherapy. She struggles with a number of serious illnesses, including hepatitis C, cirrhosis, cancer and Sjoegrens Disease. She was bound over for December trial during a preliminary hearing last week, despite the judge in that hearing noting that she was clearly not in it for profit. "My attorney says they've never dismissed a medical marijuana sales case in San Diego," she said.

"They are a little more conservative down there than the other coastal cities," said San Francisco-based Marijuana Policy Project spokesman Bruce Mirken when asked what was the matter with San Diego. "It seems like the county is more a problem than the city, and some of their officials, including the DA, are particularly bad."

California's confused medical marijuana law is part of the problem, said Mirken. "It doesn't specify with absolute clarity what is legal and what isn't when it comes to medical marijuana distribution. Everyone is operating on the attorney general's guidelines, which haven't been tested in court, and that leaves room for interpretation, so you have fertile ground for officials who choose to be jerks to wreak a great deal of havoc. That's what's happening in San Diego County."

"People got up in arms at the DEA, but in this case, they were playing a supporting role," said Mirken. "The real problem is local officials who think medical marijuana is okay as long as you don't actually get it from anyone. The law says patients can have marijuana, so it makes sense to have an aboveground, organized distribution system. We have working models for that in places like San Francisco and Oakland. It's not that hard to do if you have the political will to do it," Mirken said.

"It's just been an ongoing battle for lo these many years," said Dale Gieringer, head of California NORML in San Francisco. "The city of San Diego isn't so bad, but the county is more conservative. The county board of commissioners is the one that filed the lawsuit trying to overturn the state medical marijuana law. And the DA is just bad. We initially approved of her election; she is gay, and was viewed as progressive, but she's been really tough on medical cannabis. Still, I see a glimmer of hope here. In half of her statements, Dumanis seems to be saying that there might be some legal dispensaries around, but nobody's clear on who they are."

San Diego medical marijuana patients and activists aren't seeing glimmers of hope; they're seeing red. "We need to replace the DA, most of the county board, and the county sheriff," said Lambert. "They are all working together to subvert the state law. It doesn't matter to them if people are following the law or not, she just lies through her teeth about it. I am the perfect example of her lies."

"Dumanis has made a political calculation that this will appeal to her conservative base," said Markgraff. "There is no one currently running against her, but we are trying to get someone to do that. There are plenty of people upset with her, and now just in the medical marijuana community. She's ripe for being thrown out," he said.

"We are mobilizing in San Diego," said Dooley-Sammuli. "Patients and medical marijuana supporters are working to put pressure on her to stop these tactics, and we're working with the newly created city task force to craft regulations, but this is really all about Bonnie Dumanis and the upcoming election. She is hoping this will work for her politically, and we're working to see that it doesn't."

San Diego activists told the Chronicle of many more horror stories about medical marijuana persecution under DA Dumanis. While they are working to get rid of Dumanis and bring a measure of real justice to the DA's office, the Chronicle will be digging a little deeper into the alleged abuses.

Are these ads too hot for TV?

[Courtesy of MPP] 

Dear friends:

Do you think these ads are too hot for TV? New York City's ABC, Fox, and CBS affiliates do — they've rejected them.

NY ad - Joel  

These stations have no problem airing lewd and violent commercials selling products like video games and reality shows, but they're rejecting ads asking the New York Legislature to allow seriously ill patients to use medical marijuana (something that 76% of New Yorkers support). What's wrong here?

We have a real shot at making New York the 14th medical marijuana state and the third to have state-licensed medical marijuana dispensaries. But before the legislature returns for a special session, they need to hear our message.

Don't let big media bureaucrats stand in the way of justice and compassion. Please join me in ensuring that as many New Yorkers as possible view these compelling ads by donating to the ad buy today.

Fortunately, many other stations have approved the ads. Let's show ABC, FOX, and CBS that their rejections have simply inspired supporters nationwide to light up the rest of the airwaves with these ads.

The ads are starting to air today, and any money you generously donate in response to this message will go straight into the purchase of more airtime. I invite you to give what you can today — $10, $25, $50, or more — to spread these ads across the airwaves.

The last time TV stations rejected one of our ads, it turned into a massive national news story. The same could happen this time with these ads.  By donating to the ad campaign today, you can be part of making a big media splash that puts voters face-to-face with the patients they have the chance to protect from arrest, while at the same time exposing the outrageous hypocrisy shown by some stations in rejecting the ads.

If you donate in response to this message, I'll make sure to send you a personal message in a few weeks to show you exactly how your investment in this special project paid off.

Thank you for considering this timely request.


Rob Kampia
Executive Director
Marijuana Policy Project
Washington, D.C.

P.S. As I've mentioned in previous alerts, a major philanthropist has committed to match the first $2.35 million that MPP can raise from the rest of the planet in 2009. This means that your donation today will be doubled.

United States

The Marijuana Ads That ABC, FOX, and CBS Refused to Show You

New York City is the marijuana arrest capital of the world, which makes it harsh terrain for seriously ill patients who rely on medical marijuana for relief. An effort is under way to legalize medical marijuana in New York and remove sick people from the drug war battlefield.

Unfortunately, three of the biggest TV stations in New York City don't want you to know about it. ABC, FOX, and CBS affiliates all refused to run ads in support of protecting medical marijuana patients. This is the message they don't want you to hear:

These are seriously ill patients fighting for compassion and equality. To silence them is an act of appalling cruelty and ignorance. Whatever petty political considerations might motivate these TV stations to censor the medical marijuana debate are trivial compared to the real human suffering that will continue if patients are denied the opportunity to speak up.

Medical marijuana is supported by 76% of New Yorkers, so to suggest that there's anything inherently offensive about airing that viewpoint is just pure fiction. According to MPP's Bruce Mirken, CBS stated that they rejected the ad because they're "concerned about viewer reaction." Really, CBS? Is there anything objectionable about the idea of not arresting people with auto-immune disease? The most likely "viewer reaction" is that people will agree to support legislation that protects patients from arrest.

Please help us show these TV stations that their censorship is what's offensive, not the effort to protect seriously ill patients. Click to contact ABC, FOX, and CBS and let them know that silencing patients is both politically and morally wrong.

TV Ads Air, Pleading for Medical Marijuana Law Despite Rejection by CBS, ABC, Fox

SEPTEMBER 16, 2009    

TV Ads Air, Pleading for Medical Marijuana Law Despite Rejection by CBS, ABC, Fox
Spots Debut in Key NY Districts as Local Polls Show Strong Support

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

ALBANY, NEW YORK -- Two new TV ads featuring patients who have benefited from medical marijuana began airing today in media markets covering key New York Senate districts. Rejected by ABC, CBS and Fox, the spots will nevertheless air on WNBC in New York City and on cable outlets around the state, including the New York City, Buffalo and Rochester metropolitan areas, Westchester and Rockland counties and the rest of the Lower Hudson Valley, Watertown, Oswego, and Ogdensburg.

     Local polls in these districts show overwhelming, bipartisan support for medical marijuana legislation. For example, Mason-Dixon polls conducted Sept. 1-3 in Senate Districts 12 (Queens), 48 (Watertown, Oswego), and 58 (Buffalo and nearby areas) showed support for the legislation running at 72 percent, 69 percent, and 74 percent, respectively. Full results of these and earlier district polls on the medical marijuana bill are at A separate set of polls from 2007 is at

     One of the spots features Conservative Party member Joel Peacock of Buffalo, who suffers from chronic pain as the result of a serious accident. In the ad, he describes running out of his prescription medication while on a work assignment in the south after Hurricane Katrina and being given marijuana by a client. "It took away the pain," Peacock says in the ad. "It took away the nausea. I didn't have stomach cramps. I slept. It just did everything my medicine doesn't do. Please, ask your senator to have compassion."

     Both spots, sponsored by the Marijuana Policy Project and New Yorkers for Compassionate Care, can be viewed at In nearly all areas, the ads are customized to name the specific state senator who voters should contact (in New York City and Orange County, the configuration of Senate districts and TV markets made this impractical).

     Kevin Smith, M.D., of Saugerties, who appears in the second spot and who suffers severe pain from a genetic disorder known as ankylosing spondilitis, was angered by the stations' rejection of the ads. "As a patient whose well-being would be dramatically improved by the medical marijuana bill, I am appalled that these TV stations won't even let us tell our stories to their viewers," Smith said. "These stations are out of touch with the public, 76 percent of whom support protecting patients."


     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


United States

Press Release: 33 U.S. Clinical Studies Show Marijuana's Medical Use, New Journal Article Says

SEPTEMBER 14, 2009

33 U.S. Clinical Studies Show Marijuana's Medical Use, Journal of Opioid Management Article Says
Contrary to Opponents' Claims, Controlled Studies Have Repeatedly Demonstrated Safety, Efficacy

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

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON -- In a landmark article in the Journal of Opioid Management, University of Washington researcher Sunil Aggarwal and colleagues document 33 U.S. controlled clinical trials published from 1971 to 2009 confirming that marijuana is a safe, effective medicine for specific medical conditions.    

     Under federal law, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug, defining it as having high potential for abuse, unsafe for use even under medical supervision, and lacking currently accepted medical uses in the U.S. "In fact," Aggarwal and colleagues write, "nearly all of the 33 published controlled clinical trials conducted in the United States have shown significant and measurable benefits in subjects receiving the treatment."  Additionally, the paper documents the growing acceptance of the therapeutic use of marijuana among organized medicine groups and estimates that "in 2008, approximately 7,000 American physicians have made such authorizations for a total of approximately 400,000 patients."

     Regarding abuse and safety issues, Aggarwal et al. write that withdrawal symptoms -- a classic symptom of drug dependence -- are notably absent from the published trials, while "the vast majority of reported adverse events were not serious ... It is clear that as an analgesic, cannabis is extremely safe with minimal toxicity."

     Unfortunately, the article continues, ignorance regarding marijuana remains widespread in the medical community. "There remains a near complete absence of education about cannabinoid medicine in any level of medical training," Aggarwal writes.

     "This is arguably the most thorough review of the literature on medical marijuana since the Institute of Medicine report over a decade ago, with a trove of data that wasn't available to the IOM," said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project. "It is simply incomprehensible that a medicine that is so clearly safe and effective remains banned from medical use by federal law and the laws of 37 states."

     The article, "Medicinal Use of Cannabis in the United States: Historical Perspectives, Current Trends, and Future Directions," is available at A complete list of the 33 U.S. clinical trials is available from Sunil Aggarwal at or 206-375-3785.

     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


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