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A great day for the Martin family and the medical cannabis movement

[Courtesy of Rebecca Saltzman]

Michael Martin speaking at the press conference before his sentencing hearing.

I woke up this morning feeling nervous and unsettled. My friend and colleague Michael Martin was to be sentenced this afternoon, and I prepared myself for the worst. But after an emotional rally and lengthy sentencing hearing, I felt at ease because Mickey is not going to prison.

After pleading guilty in federal court to manufacturing marijuana edibles, with the government finding more than 400 plants, Mickey faced a guidelines range of 30 to 37 months imprisonment.  However, due to the tension between state and federal law and the lack of any evidence that any edible produced by Mickey was diverted to recreational use, United States District Court Judge Claudia Wilkin exercised her discretion to sentence Mickey to 5 years probation, with one year to be served in a halfway house and one year to be served in home confinement.

The hearing was intense. Judge Wilkin asked several astute questions about state law and the interplay between state law and federal law. Clearly, she saw that the conflicting laws made medical marijuana cases unique. After Mickey's attorneys spoke about state law and the need for a change in federal law, Mickey spoke for himself. He talked about the cancer patients that had been able to eat after using his edibles. He spoke about his loving family and his service to the community. He explained that he had only done what he did to help people, and never to profit. Half way into his speech, most of the dozens of supporters packing the court room were in tears.

His speech and the stack of support letter the judge had received made a difference. And after the judge announced his sentence, the entire court room of supporters stood up and clapped.

Of course, Mickey never should have been prosecuted in the first place and deserves no punishment for providing medical cannabis edibles to ailing California patients. But this punishment was the best he could have hoped for. It means that he will not miss any years of his children's lives and that he can continue to work and provide for his family.

This sends another message by a federal judge that the federal government should not waste its time bring these cases.

United States

Bob Barr Praises Federal Court Ruling Upholding Right of States to Allow Medical Use of Marijuana

Atlanta, GA - “The principle of federalism seemed dead three years ago when the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the federal government to run roughshod over state laws permitting the medical use of marijuana,” says Bob Barr, the Libertarian Party presidential nominee. Barr says the tide may be turning with the recent decision by U.S. District Court Judge Jeremy Fogel, who refused to dismiss a case by city and state officials against the federal government for raiding a medical marijuana group in San Cruz, California. “Keeping the case alive was significant enough,” notes Barr. “But Judge Fogel suggested that the Bush administration might have violated the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution in adopting a policy intended to effectively void California’s medical marijuana law." As Judge Fogel explained, a trial must proceed on whether the federal government attempted to make ‘California’s medical marijuana laws impossible to implement and thereby forcing California and its political subdivisions to recriminalize medical marijuana.’ In short, says Barr, the courts may end up deciding that while the federal government may implement a policy that runs contrary to state rules in an area of traditional state authority, namely the criminal law, Washington may not work to overturn state law. “After spending billions of dollars and arresting millions of people, we seem no closer to eliminating illicit drug use than we were at the start,” Barr says. “But we certainly have lost a lot of our freedom. While we might disagree about the best approach to problem drug use, we should be willing to accept the compassionate use of marijuana by those who are sick and dying. Certainly states have authority under the Constitution to allow doctors to prescribe marijuana as medicine. The federal government has no constitutional authority to interfere,” insists Barr. Barr says that neither Sen. Barack Obama nor Sen. John McCain is willing to consider real change to current policy. “Sen. Obama says the federal government shouldn’t interfere with state policy, but he says he doesn’t want to waste his political capital on the issue," Barr explains. "Sen. McCain was for respecting state authority before he was against it. Neither the Democratic nor the Republican presidential candidate is willing to put constitutional principle—or the lives of those who are suffering from AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, and more—before federal power." Barr says as president, he would "direct the DEA to initiate, for the first time, a truly open and objective scientific evaluation of the medical potential of marijuana." Moreover, Barr says he would ensure that all federal officials, including those in the Department of Justice and Drug Enforcement Agency, respect the decisions of states that choose to allow the medical use of marijuana. Finally, Barr would undertake a comprehensive review of federal crimes, which have expanded far beyond the few narrow cases foreseen by the nation’s Founders. "What the federal government does, it should do well, but it attempts to do far too much today," Barr says. "We must never forget that we are supposed to be living in a free society." "Such a decision, especially if upheld on appeal, would have significant and positive repercussions in other matters of public policy in which the federal government has used the power of federal law to thwart decisions by citizens of individual states," Barr notes. Libertarian Party presidential candidate Bob Barr represented the 7th District of Georgia in the U. S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. (This press release was reprinted by's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)
United States

Medical Marijuana: Los Angeles City Council Extends Moratorium

A year-old moratorium on the opening of new medical marijuana dispensaries within the Los Angeles city limits will be extended for at least another six months. The Los Angeles City Council voted Tuesday to extend the moratorium for that period as it wrestles with new draft regulations covering the dispensaries.

Los Angeles is home to hundreds of dispensaries and had seen a dispensary boom prior to the moratorium that was first enacted in August 2007. Under guidelines published last week by Attorney General Jerry Brown, dispensaries are legal, but only if they are established as co-ops or collectives and are nonprofits -- a restriction that is certain to meet with legal challenges. It is unclear how many LA dispensaries meet those criteria.

The council voted to extend the moratorium on a 14-0 vote. Prior to voting, Councilman Dennis Zine said the continued moratorium would give the city attorney's office time to craft a dispensary policy that would ensure marijuana is made available to legitimate medical patients while preventing "abuses."

Under California's medical marijuana law, a legitimate patient is anyone who has received a doctor's recommendation to use marijuana. The broadly written state law does not limit such recommendations to a defined set of diseases or symptoms. Instead it lists a number of diseases, such as cancer, AIDS, and glaucoma, then adds the words "or any other illness for which marijuana provides relief."

Palin Pick Makes Medical Marijuana a Problem Issue For McCain

We know she used marijuana when it was legal in Alaska. And we know that she hypocritically claims to oppose legalization. But Sarah Palin is also governor of a state that’s had a medical marijuana program for ten years. How does she feel about that?

Does Sarah Palin share John McCain’s open hostility towards seriously ill patients who use marijuana on the advice of their doctors?

Frankly, I highly doubt Palin agrees with this. It’s bad politics for her in Alaska and, for that matter, everywhere else as well. If pressed, she’ll be forced to take the party line, but that won’t go well for her. Palin can’t conveniently defend federal supremacy over state medical marijuana laws because she’s already argued that her own past marijuana use was legal in Alaska. She can’t defend medical marijuana raids without labeling herself a criminal.

The point isn’t that there’s anything damaging about her admitted marijuana use or that people who admit trying marijuana become obligated to support medical access. Neither is true. The point, rather, is that Palin’s personal story highlights the absurdity of bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. telling people all the way up in Alaska what sorts of petty drug laws they ought to have. She doesn’t want to go there. It’s a terrible jumping-off point for initiating a defense of federal authority to arrest sick people.

That’s why the Obama campaign would be smart to apply pressure here. Public support for medical marijuana is overwhelming and the video of McCain literally turning his back on a wheelchair bound patient is compelling. This debate polarizes independent and libertarian voters in Obama’s favor, while forcing McCain to defend another unpopular Bush policy. Biden’s obnoxious drug war background also becomes a counterintuitive asset, as he can ably deflect any shrill attacks from the law & order crowd on the right.

As the democrats clamor for opportunities to puncture the narrative of McCain/Palin as a "reform" ticket, there is nothing to lose, and potentially much to gain by directly challenging McCain’s deeply unpopular views on medical marijuana.

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

How Much More Public Support Does Medical Marijuana Really Need?

CNN hosted an interview with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday which featured democratically elected questions courtesy of the popular website Unsurprisingly, one of the top questions was about marijuana policy reform. Here is her response (it’s the 3rd question):

Obviously, Pelosi is very supportive of medical marijuana and despite her pessimism about achieving full-scale legalization, she didn’t actually say she opposed it. Ideologically, I’d have to say this was pretty good coming from the Speaker of the House. But, as Paul Armentano points out, Pelosi’s advice to supporters of medical marijuana just doesn’t add up. She laments Congress’ intransigence on the issue and encourages constituents to contact their representatives, as though this is all just a matter of showing politicians where the people stand.

Alas, we kinda tried that already. Public support for medical marijuana has been overwhelming for a long time. Reformers are 9-1 when it comes to passing state-level medical marijuana laws at the ballot box. State legislatures in Hawaii, New Mexico and Rhode Island have passed laws to protect patients, drawing praise from constituents. The only memorable instance of a politician being damaged for his position on medical marijuana involved Bob Barr, who lost his House seat following attacks for opposing medical marijuana. He’s come around since then.

What, other than legalizing medical marijuana in a dozen states, could the people possibly do to show the politicians in Washington, D.C. that we’re serious about this? You want us to go legalize medical marijuana everywhere else in America? We’ll do it. You want more research proving that it works? Let us know when you’re done reading what we’ve already given you, and we’ll gladly send the rest. Worried about the message to young people? Teenage use is down in states with medical marijuana laws.

You see, our feet are tired. Our throats are hoarse. Our keyboards are cracking, our sharpies are dry and we’re almost out of posterboard. With all of that in mind, Nancy Pelosi, since you do agree with us and you’re the Speaker of House now, we were hoping there might be something else you could do.

Medical Marijuana: Washington State Fight Over Allowable Quantities Continues

After being roundly chastised by more than a hundred medical marijuana patients and activists at an angry Monday meeting, the Washington state Health Department has extended the deadline for comments on its proposed medical marijuana quantity limits until 5:00pm PDT today. Assistant Health Secretary Karen Jensen made the announcement at the end of the meeting in Tumwater.

Washington voters approved a medical marijuana initiative in 1998 that allowed patients to have a 60-day supply, but just what that constituted has never been specified. Last year, the legislature passed a measure directing the Health Department to spell out acceptable amounts.

In an earlier draft proposal, the Health Department suggested allowing patients 35 ounces of marijuana and a 100-square foot growing space. But after criticism from Gov. Christine Gregoire (D), whose office argued that the original draft was too generous and had not had sufficient input from law enforcement and doctors, the department came back with a more restrictive proposal: 24 ounces of marijuana, six mature plants, and 18 seedlings.

At the Tumwater meeting, patients, doctors, and activists harshly criticized the new draft as unfair, unrealistic, and unduly influenced by law enforcement. "We're not criminals. We're patients," said Melissa Leggee of Spokane in remarks reported by the Seattle Times. "We just want to be left alone to do what we need to do to survive."

"You're going to make everyone in this room a felon," if the proposed limit is adopted, Steve Sarich, of Kirkland, told the panel of Health Department officials. Sarich is director of CannaCare, which provides legal assistance and starter plants to patients.

Dr. Karen Hamilton, of Redmond, who has treated patients helped by marijuana, said the proposal would "effectively take treatment out of the doctors' hands," adding that there is no "one-size-fits-all" appropriate marijuana dose.

And speaker after speaker told the panel that six plants could not provide the amount of marijuana most patients need to alleviate their pain, nausea, and other symptoms of the more than a dozen diseases the drug can be used to treat. If patients cannot provide for themselves, they said, they will have to turn to the black market.

Gregoire's interference in the drafting process prompted Troy Williams of Clark County to urge the Health Department to stand up to the governor and protect the rights of patients. Department officials should "stand up, have some courage, and tell the governor to shove it," he said.

Assistant Secretary Jensen said that once the comments period ends today, the agency will take about a month to evaluate them and adopt a quantities rule. If substantial changes are made to the current draft, she said, a new round of comments will follow. Substantial changes are precisely what patients and their advocates want to see.

Feature: California Attorney General Issues Medical Marijuana Guidelines -- Mostly Good But Some Problems, Say Advocates

After more than a decade of roiling confusion over what California's groundbreaking medical marijuana law and subsequent enabling legislation do and do not allow, state Attorney General Jerry Brown sought to clarify matters Monday by issuing a long-awaited set of guidelines for patients, providers, and law enforcement. In addition to clarifying what is permissible under state law, Brown also hoped to damp down the ongoing conflict between state and federal authorities over medical marijuana in California.
California medical marijuana bags (courtesy Daniel Argo via Wikimedia)
Under the guidelines, medical marijuana dispensaries must operate as not-for-profit collectives or cooperatives, and are prohibited from buying marijuana from growers who are not themselves patients or registered caregivers. The only fees dispensaries can collect are those covering overhead and operating expenses.

The guidelines strongly urge patients to obtain state medical marijuana ID cards and advise police to accept such cards as proof of legitimate medical need. The guidelines also call on police to return seized marijuana to patients who are later proved to be legitimate. They prohibit medical marijuana patients from lighting up near schools and recreation centers or at work, unless employers approve.

Affirming that California's medical marijuana law is not preempted by federal law, the guidelines further direct "state and local law enforcement officers [to] not arrest individuals or seize marijuana under federal law" when an individual's conduct is legal under state law.

But while providing protections to patients and non-profit dispensaries organized as co-ops or collectives, the guidelines could provide a green light for law enforcement to go after the store-front dispensaries that have sprung up like mushrooms in some areas of the state. In ballyhooing a Friday raid against a Northridge dispensary by California Bureau of Narcotics Agents, Brown signaled Monday that a crackdown could be looming.

Accusing the Today's Healthcare dispensary and its operators of criminal behavior by operating a profitable business, Brown went on the offensive. "This criminal enterprise bears no resemblance to the purposes of Proposition 215, which authorized the use of medical marijuana for seriously sick patients," he said. "Today's Healthcare is a large-scale, for-profit, commercial business. This deceptively named drug ring is reaping huge profits and flaunting the state's laws that allow qualified patients to use marijuana for medicinal purposes."

California law enforcement pronounced itself pleased with the guidelines. Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer, president of the California Police Chiefs Association, praised Brown for promulgating them. "Since Proposition 215 was passed, the laws surrounding the use, possession and distribution of medical marijuana became confusing at best. These newly established guidelines are an essential tool for law enforcement and provide the parameters needed for consistent statewide regulation and enforcement."

Despite the apparent threat to non-compliant dispensaries and their suppliers, most medical marijuana advocates also pronounced themselves generally satisfied with the guidelines. The medical marijuana defense group Americans for Safe Access has been working with Attorney General Brown and his predecessor, Bill Lockyer, for several years in an effort to see guidelines promulgated. ASA spokesman Kris Hermes said this week that while the guidelines are not perfect, they are a step in the right direction.

"We've been urging them to come out with an official statement that can direct law enforcement and stop what has been rampant disrespect for state law in some areas," he said. "From that perspective, the guidelines are a huge step forward. They provide a blueprint for local law enforcement to develop sensible policies around patient encounters, and they recognize the validity and law-abiding nature of medical marijuana dispensaries in California. That's huge," said Hermes. "These guidelines are a boon for patients, police, and everyone else in the state and will greatly advance the implementation of state law."

"Given the vagueness of the initiative and the statutes, the guidelines are pretty good," said Bruce Mirken, San Francisco-based communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "They establish parameters within which the distribution of medical marijuana is to be treated as legitimate and legal. That's important because some prosecutors have been adamant that there is no legal authority for dispensaries -- period. This cuts the legs out from under them," he said.

"They were about what we expected," said Dale Gieringer, head of California NORML. "Most of the guidelines are consistent with what our attorneys have been saying and advising their clients to do all along. There are a few problem areas, but these guidelines will help fill the vacuum."

One problem Gieringer pointed out was that the guidelines say dispensaries may possess and distribute only lawfully cultivated marijuana, and that they cannot purchase from or sell to non-members. "There is nothing in either federal or state law against purchasing marijuana, so we don't see any legal basis for saying it's illegal to buy from outside vendors," he said.

Another potential problem is that the guidelines say that co-ops and collectives should document their activities and record the source of the marijuana they purchase, Gieringer said. "That is going to be problematic until we have some assurance of protection from being arrested by the DEA, and we don't want to see the cops come in and seize the records, and then bust the growers."

"While there is much about the guidelines that is positive, we also have some worries about some of the dispensary language," Mirken said. "Requiring dispensaries to be non-profit is just silly. Is Jerry Brown going to demand that Walgreen's and Riteaid become charities, too? If society thinks private enterprise and the profit motive are a logical way to distribute goods and services, why not medical marijuana?"

Still, said Mirken, the guidelines are a step in the right direction. "Given that we have all these issues here in California, anything that moves us in the direction of an orderly system with some legal clarity is a good thing. When you have local authorities who just don't like medical marijuana and are looking for an excuse to bust people, which some of them have been doing all along, this is going to provide protection."

But at least one Bay Area dispensary operator was not so impressed. "Let's see how it all plays out," said Richard Lee, proprietor of Oakland's Bulldog Coffee Shop and SR-71 dispensary and key promoter of the Oaksterdam scene. "Hopefully, it will help people in more repressed redneck areas and not hurt people in more progressive areas like Oakland and San Francisco."

Although Brown's guidelines call for dispensaries to be organized as co-ops or collectives, Lee has not incorporated in that manner and has no plans to. "We've been here eight years," he said. "We were here before they even passed SB 420. Oakland has a system that allows reasonable profits; it's set up for the clubs to run like any other business, and we are fine with that. Does Jerry Brown really want to come in and mess with Oakland's system that works?"

While the guidelines could result in a temporary decrease in the number of dispensaries as non-compliant ones either close their doors or have them closed for them by law enforcement, the end result will most likely be more dispensaries opening in areas of that state that are currently underserved because of local law enforcement or official hostility.

"I'm not too worried about a short term decrease in the dispensaries if it brings a little more rigor," said Gieringer. "Things have been fast and loose, and we have some rogue operators who wouldn't normally be operating in a legal market. We will lose some of those people, which could result in a short term decrease in availability, but in the medium term, this should be balanced out by the increase in availability in currently underserved areas."

While not everyone is happy with all aspects of the guidelines, the state of California has now taken a big step toward legitimizing its medical marijuana industry, reducing the confusion surrounding the state's medical marijuana law, and sending a strong signal to the DEA that it intends to police itself.

Australia: Strong Support for Medical Marijuana, Needle Exchange Programs, National Survey Finds

Australia's 2007 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, in which more than 23,000 people over the age of 12 were quizzed by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare about their drug use and attitudes toward various drug policy positions, has demonstrated broad support for medical marijuana and harm reduction measures aimed at hard drug users.

Regarding heroin use, the survey found that 67% supported needle exchange programs, 68% supported methadone maintenance, 75% supported the use of naltrexone for overdose avoidance, and 79% supported the use of rapid detox therapy. On the other hand, only 50% supported heroin injection sites, and only 33% supported heroin maintenance therapy.

Medical marijuana also won strong support. Some 69% supported legal medical marijuana, while an even larger number, 75%, supported clinical trials for medical marijuana. In all the policy choices cited here, support was at higher levels than the most recent national survey in 2004.

Marijuana legalization for personal use did not fare so well. Only 21% supported legalization, down from 27% in 2004. The intervening period has been one of Reefer Madness Down Under, with Australian authorities and a complicit media waxing hysterical about the alleged dangers of the weed.

When it comes to legalizing other drugs, support was in the single digits, and relatively unchanged from 2004.

Frighteningly, large majorities of Australians favored increased criminal penalties for drug sales offenses. More than 80% favored harsher sentences for hard drug sales, while even for marijuana, nearly two-thirds (63%) wanted stiffer penalties.

New Medical Marijuana Regulations Are a Good Thing

Bruce Mirken at the MPP Blog points out this observation from the LA Times:

Most of the negative consequences can be attributed to the gap between state and federal marijuana laws. The fact that even sellers considered legitimate by the state can be prosecuted and ruined by federal agents encourages black-market dealers, who endanger their communities by ignoring fire codes, selling to healthy minors and fighting turf wars with other dealers.

Overall, Proposition 215 has done more good than harm. In addition to marijuana's medical benefits, its legitimate sale brings in $100 million a year in tax revenues, and even though it can be abused by users, it isn't demonstrably more dangerous to society than tobacco and alcohol. The state's new guidelines will help reduce the measure's harmful side effects, but the only long-term solution is for the feds to stop the medical marijuana raids and leave California law enforcement to California officers.

The longer Californians live under Prop. 215, the clearer that central point becomes. Federal interference is the obvious remaining source of chaos in California’s medical marijuana economy. Once that obstacle is removed, everything else will fall into place. By developing formal guidelines for legally providing medical marijuana, Attorney General Brown has taken an important step towards further legitimizing medical marijuana distribution.

Of course, the flipside is that the new regulations will give local police more leverage to go after dispensaries that don’t follow the guidelines. Providers will be required to operate on a "not-for-profit" basis, which means "reinvesting excess revenue (after salary and overhead) in patients services for members, advocacy for patients, or other typical nonprofit activity."

It will be interesting to see how all of this unfolds and I imagine there will be problems, but I’m not sure the San Francisco Chronicle quite understands what this is all about:

California Attorney General Jerry Brown has ordered a crackdown on medical pot clubs that are selling the drug for big profits.

The move puts the state a bit more in line with the feds in dealing with the explosion of questionable marijuana dispensaries since the passage of Proposition 215 more than a decade ago.

The single most important thing to understand about the new regulations is that they forbid police from disrupting legitimate medical marijuana activity as authorized under Prop. 215. To say that this somehow brings the state "a bit more in line with the feds" is dubious since federal law prohibits any medical marijuana distribution whatsoever. Since the DEA has often claimed that their enforcement is focused on operations that violate California law, the new regulations could effectively render DEA’s involvement obsolete, while protecting any provider with enough common sense to follow the guidelines.

So while the new rules are likely to create problems for some participants in the medical marijuana economy, the overarching concept behind all of this is that California’s medical marijuana laws should be enforced by California’s police, not the DEA. It is a necessary step towards further legitimizing medical access in the years to come.

California Attorney General Tells Police to Uphold Medical Marijuana Laws

Ten years after the passage of Proposition 215, California Attorney General Jerry Brown has finally clarified that law-enforcement must respect the state’s medical marijuana law:

California Attorney General Jerry Brown issued long-awaited guidelines on medical marijuana today with support from advocates and law enforcement alike. The guidelines direct law enforcement on how to approach encounters with medical marijuana patients and establish a road map for local police policies. However, more significantly, the guidelines provide recommendations for operating medical marijuana dispensaries in accordance with state law.

The guidelines firmly establish that as long as patients and caregivers are abiding by local and state laws, they "should be released" from police custody and "the marijuana should not be seized." In the event that medical marijuana is wrongfully seized from a patient or caregiver, and the court orders its return, the guidelines state that police "must return the property." Affirming that California's medical marijuana law is not preempted by federal law, the Attorney General further directs "state and local law enforcement officers [to] not arrest individuals or seize marijuana under federal law" when an individual's conduct is legal under state law. [Americans for Safe Access]

While Prop. 215 has gone a long way towards protecting the medical marijuana community from harassment by state law-enforcement, there have been continuing regional problems such as unjustified confiscation of medicine. The new guidelines should remind police that their duty is to uphold the law, not circumvent it.

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