Harborside targeted by feds while Leader Pelosi stresses importance of federal action on medical marijuana


The Associated Press is reporting that Harborside Health Center, which has been called California’s largest non-profit medical marijuana dispensary, is being targeted by federal prosecutors in California. According to Harborside spokesperson Gaynell Rogers, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag’s office has threatened to seize the property on which Harborside’s two locations operate: one in Oakland and the other in San Jose.

Meanwhile, the ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives and congresswoman for nearby San Francisco, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, reaffirmed her support for the medical use of marijuana, telling a round table of bloggers that taking up and discussing federal legislation regarding medical marijuana would be “really important.” While she gave no firm promise to introduce specific legislation, her support for medical marijuana patients puts her at odds with the actions of President Barack Obama’s Justice Department.

President Obama would be wise to listen to his party’s ranking member in the House of Representatives as opposed to career drug warriors like DEA chief Michele Leonhart. While Leader Pelosi recognizes the real and growing evidence of marijuana’s medical efficacy, Agent Leonhart cannot even bring herself to admit that heroin is more harmful than marijuana. And if science isn’t something that the president and his circle are interested in listening to, they should at least listen to the 77% of the American public who support medical access to marijuana.

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Compassion center legislation enacted in Rhode Island!


Fourteen months ago, Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee decided to withhold issuing certificates of operation to three prospective compassion centers (dispensaries) chosen by the governor’s own health department. This decision, made unilaterally by the governor, was Chafee’s reaction to a letter from Rhode Island United States Attorney Peter Neronha. The letter – one of several sent by United States attorneys across the country – reiterated the federal prohibition on marijuana, including for medical use. Additionally, it said Neronha’s office could prosecute people who violate the Controlled Substances Act. This stalled years of work done by the Rhode Island Legislature to give patients safe, regulated access to medical marijuana.

Needless to say, that day about 14 months ago wasn’t a good one around the MPP offices. MPP began lobbying to protect Rhode Island’s medical marijuana patients in 2004 and worked to allow compassion centers in the state since 2008. The legislature approved compassion center legislation in 2009, over then-governor Donald Carcieri’s veto. We watched with some frustration as the department needed two different application processes to determine who would operate the three compassion centers, but ultimately cheered the department when they finally approved the centers. We were on the verge of seeing compassion centers in Rhode Island, when Gov. Chafee received his letter. We were not pleased with Chafee or the federal government.

But then a funny thing happened up in Rhode Island: Chafee started feeling the heat of his decision. Patients would show up at his public events and hound him for restricting their access to a medicine that their physicians had recommended. Who is Gov. Chafee to refuse to implement duly enacted law anyway? Rhode Islanders demanded he reverse course. It was inspiring.

Over the course of the next months, MPP, along with our legislative champions, Sen. Rhoda Perry and Rep. Scott Slater, and patient advocates from the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition, engaged Gov. Chafee and his staff. An open dialogue was created and ideas were offered from both sides. The governor recognized the legitimate need for regulated safe access to medical marijuana but feared the program as written — with the possibility of thousands of plants per center and millions of dollars of revenue — would draw the ire of U.S. Attorney Neronha’s office.

Last night, Gov. Chafee signed into law legislation that resulted from those good faith negotiations. To limit the size of the centers, the law has been amended to restrict the centers to cultivating a maximum of 150 marijuana plants, no more than 99 of which may be mature. Additionally, the centers may possess no more than 1,500 ounces of usable medical marijuana at a time. To ensure the viability of the centers, the law will allow medical marijuana patients and caregivers to sell their excess medicine to compassion centers, but caregivers must first attest that their patients have had their medical needs met.

We certainly disagreed with Gov. Chafee’s decision to halt initial implementation of the compassion centers, and we recognize that the compromise legislation is not perfect. However, the ball has been moved forward. The long arm of the federal government started shaking its sword and frightened a governor into inaction. With the help of logic, reason, sincere compassion, and dogged stick-to-it-ness by legislative leaders, Rhode Island has been able to move past the fear and pass legislation that will bring safe access to medical marijuana patients.

We’ve got one piece of advice for U.S. Attorney Neronha: voters will remember if you continue to bully those who provide medicine to the seriously ill instead of focusing on prosecuting real crimes. Be careful how you proceed next.

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Tell Congress to Stop Federal Interference with Medical Marijuana States


An amendment to the 2013 Commerce, Justice, State Appropriations bill in the U.S. House that would effectively end federal interference in medical marijuana states is being considered today, and we need your help!

The Rohrabacher-Hinchey-Farr-McClintock Amendment would stop federal agencies from spending any funds to target individuals acting in compliance with state medical marijuana laws. This would include patients and providers, so long as those providers were following the law within their respective states.

If this passes, providers will no longer have to live in fear that the businesses they worked hard to build and keep in compliance with their state and local laws will be arbitrarily raided and destroyed by federal agents. Patients will no longer be forced to buy inferior medicine from dangerous criminals at the whim of U.S. attorneys. States will finally be free to determine the marijuana policies that work best for the seriously ill among their residents.

We need your help to make this happen. Please follow this link and call your member of Congress TODAY! Tell them that they need to support this amendment and make the federal government stop wasting its time and resources on medical marijuana.

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Broken Promises: The Obama Administration and Medical Marijuana


President Obama owes a debt of gratitude to the medical marijuana community for his election in 2008 — a debt that patients, providers, and businesses hoped would be fulfilled by the president following through on the promises he made to respect state medical marijuana laws.

As you can see in this recent op-ed in the Washington Post by MPP’s Rob Kampia, not only has the administration failed to keep its promise of respecting states’ rights on this issue, it is now the most hostile administration in U.S. history towards medical marijuana!

More than three out of four Americans support legalizing medical marijuana for serious medical conditions. With an approval rating of less than 50%, Obama needs to recognize the political ramifications of these continued attacks on the medical marijuana community. If he wants to hold on to the White House this fall, Obama needs to keep the promises he made four years ago, and end the crackdown. As his attorney general said a few days ago, all he has to do is say the word.

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Six National Drug Policy Organizations Call on President Obama to End Unnecessary Assault on Medical Marijuana Providers


In the wake of recent attacks on medical marijuana providers and patients by multiple branches of the federal government, including Monday’s raids on Oaksterdam University in Oakland, CA, a coalition of six national drug policy reform organizations is appealing to President Obama and his administration to follow its own previously stated policies respecting state medical marijuana laws. In the letter, posted in full below, the organizations call on the Obama administration to bring an end to the federal government’s ongoing campaign to undermine state efforts to regulate safe and legal access to medical marijuana for those patients who rely on it.

The Obama Administration’s National Drug Control Strategy Report 2012, reportedly being released in the coming days, is expected to cling to failed and outdated marijuana policies which further cement the control of the marijuana trade in the hands of drug cartels and illegal operators, endangering both patients in medical marijuana states and citizens everywhere. The members of this coalition stand together with members of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, current and former Latin American leaders whose countries are being ravaged by drug cartels, state officials from five medical marijuana states, and tens of millions of Americans in their call for a more rational approach to marijuana policy.


April 4, 2012

President Barack Obama

The White House

Washington D.C. 20500

Via Fax: 2024562461

Dear Mr. President:

Our coalition represents the views of tens of millions of Americans who believe the war on medical marijuana patients and providers you are fighting is misguided and counterproductive. As your administration prepares to release its annual National Drug Control Strategy, we want to speak with one voice and convey our deep sense of anger and disappointment in your lack of leadership on this issue.

Voters and elected officials in sixteen states and the District of Columbia have determined that the medical use of marijuana should be legal. In many of these states, the laws also include means for providing medical marijuana patients safe access to this medicine. These laws allowing for the cultivation and distribution of medical marijuana actually shift control of marijuana sales from the criminal underground to state-licensed, taxed, and regulated producers and distributors.

Instead of celebrating – or even tolerating – this state experimentation, which has benefited patients and taken profits away from drug cartels, you have turned your back as career law enforcement officials have run roughshod over some of the most professional and well-regulated medical marijuana providers. We simply cannot understand why you have reneged on your administration’s earlier policy of respecting state medical marijuana laws.

Our frustration and confusion over your administration’s uncalled-for attacks on state-authorized medical marijuana providers was best summed up by John McCowen, the chair of the Mendocino County (CA) board of supervisors, who said, “It’s almost as if there was a conscious effort to drive [medical marijuana cultivation and distribution] back underground. My opinion is that’s going to further endanger public safety and the environment – the federal government doesn’t seem to care about that.”

The National Drug Control Strategy you are about to release will no doubt call for a continuation of policies that have as a primary goal the ongoing and permanent control of the marijuana trade by drug cartels and organized crime. We cannot and do not endorse the continued embrace of this utterly failed policy. We stand instead with Latin American leaders, members of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, and the vast majority of people who voted you into office in recognizing that it is time for a new approach on marijuana policy.

With approximately 50,000 people dead in Mexico over the past five years as the result of drug war-related violence, we hope that you will immediately reconsider your drug control strategy and will work with, not against, states and organizations that are attempting to shift control of marijuana cultivation and sales, at least as it applies to medical marijuana, to a controlled and regulated market.


Drug Policy Alliance (DPA)

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP)

Marijuana Policy Project (MPP)

National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA)

National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML)

Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP)

cc:  Eric Holder, Attorney General, Department of Justice

James Cole, Deputy Attorney General, Department of Justice

Gil Kerlikowske, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy

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Congress Tells States They Can Drug Test for Unemployment Benefits


Last week, the political blustering of federal lawmakers once again resulted in a law that unfairly targets marijuana users without any proof of effectiveness. On Friday, Congress reached a payroll and benefits deal that allows states to drug test any person applying for unemployment benefits if that person is looking for work in a field where drug testing is commonplace.

Thankfully, states have the option to not take part in this plan. The recent surge in states considering such policies, however, may mean that they may soon become much more common.

Florida’s experience with drug testing people applying for public benefits should have been a wake-up call for lawmakers. After passing a bill requiring unemployment beneficiaries to submit drug tests, Florida authorities soon discovered that not only was drug use extremely rare among those applying for assistance, but drug testing was actually costing the taxpayers more money! The whole point of the law was to decrease costs, so that tough-on-crime politicians could grandstand about how tax dollars in their districts aren’t buying drugs for lazy people.

Congress really needs to stop wasting its time worrying about the tiny percentage of people on public assistance that are marijuana users and instead consider all the taxpayer money they are wasting by arresting people for marijuana use at all.

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Support for Marijuana Policy Reform in Rhode Island: More Popular than the Politicians Think


Late last month, the Marijuana Policy Project commissioned Public Policy Polling to survey Rhode Island voter attitudes toward marijuana policy. The results are in, and the numbers indicate that Rhode Islanders from both sides of the aisle are clearly aware that marijuana prohibition is failed policy, and they are ready for change.

A majority of Rhode Islanders appear to be fed up with the current marijuana prohibition. Of the 714 voters polled, 52% would like to see all penalties for personal possession and use of marijuana removed and marijuana treated in a manner similar to alcohol, where it would be taxed, regulated, and sold in state-licensed stores to adults over the age of 21. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the idea received bipartisan support and was backed by 55% of Democrats and 54% of Republicans. Legislation spearheaded by MPP to establish such a system will be introduced in Rhode Island this session.

When Mason-Dixon Polling and Research asked the exact same question in 2008, only 41% of 625 voters surveyed supported regulated legalization of marijuana. That’s an increase of 11 percentage points among all voters in less than three years. The ’08 poll showed majority support among Democrats (52%) but strong opposition among Republican voters, with only 26% supporting and 66% opposing the idea just 33 months ago. This means we’ve seen support more than double among Rhode Island Republicans. So what’s going on here?

Although it may seem odd at first, I’ve long argued that replacing the marijuana prohibition with a legalized and regulated marijuana market is an issue perfectly teed up for true conservatives. Ending the marijuana prohibition, and to a greater extent the “War on Drugs,” would massively decrease the size and scope of the federal government and restore police power to the states. Massive federal programs that consume enormous amounts of tax dollars while failing to reduce use and abuse of marijuana would be dismantled, and the oft complained of “nanny state” – the government telling responsible adult citizens what they can and cannot do – would be whittled away at. But can this enormous increase in support for a regulated marijuana market among Rhode Island Republicans be attributed solely to the respondents tapping into their true conservative cores?

While the questions posed to voters were identical in 2008 and 2012, the polls were conducted by different firms. To see if this could be responsible for some of the increase, I reached out to Tom Jensen at Public Policy Polling to get his take. “Automated polls [like the one conducted by PPP] tend to get more honest responses from people about sensitive issues than live interview [polls] like Mason-Dixon conducts. People might not be comfortable telling another human on the line that they think marijuana use should be legal, but they’re fine with pushing a button to express that same opinion.” So there is an argument that some of the increase in support was actually there all along, but it was quiet support. This kind of support may be stifled in part by voters’ reluctance to tell a live human being that they support something that could be perceived as taboo.

But I don’t think the live vs. automated distinction can account for the entire increase, and neither does Mr. Jensen. “I think with the tough economy and all the hard cuts state governments across the country have had to make over the last few years, voters are open to new ways to generate revenue, like legalizing and regulating marijuana use, in a way that they might not have been in more prosperous times.” Faced with the current economy, the typical American voter is given two options: cut popular and necessary programs or raise taxes. Neither of these options seems politically popular for members of either major party. So it shouldn’t be surprising to see people from both sides of the political spectrum supporting a proposal that would raise an untold amount of revenue while keeping intact support for current programs and not raising personal income taxes.

Regardless of the reasoning, it is clear that support for regulated legalization of marijuana is increasing and increasing fast. And this phenomenon is not limited to just Rhode Island.

In October of 2011, Gallup conducted their semi-annual “Do you think the use of marijuana should be made legal, or not?” poll. They have been polling the American public on this question, off and on, since 1969. It is important to note that Gallup does not ask about a regulated market, just if marijuana should be legal. It’s also important to keep in mind that Gallup’s results are based on telephone interviews, so if Tom Jensen is correct, we’d expect that the actual support among the public is some degree higher than the results show. With that in mind, it’s incredibly telling that for the first time since 1969, Gallup found that 50% of the American public agrees that marijuana should be legal while 46% think it should remain illegal. Additionally, plurality support for a regulated and legalized market is found in both Colorado and Washington; both states will be voting on ballot measures asking if marijuana should be legalized and regulated come November.

Whatever the reasons may be, the public at large – and Rhode Island voters in particular – have come around to the idea of regulated legalization of marijuana, and why shouldn’t they? Marijuana is demonstrably safer than alcohol and tobacco – both of which are legal yet regulated. Responsible marijuana legalization and regulation will create entire industries worth of jobs, allow federal and state governments to collected needed revenue from responsible sales, and keep marijuana out of the hands of minors through thorough regulations. We’ve got the public behind us, it’s time the lawmakers open their eyes.

(NOTE: PPP also polled Rhode Island voter attitudes toward Rhode Island’s medical marijuana program and a proposal to decriminalize possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by replacing the criminal penalty with a civil citation. Both of these enjoyed very strong support. Click here for full poll results.)

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Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer relents; dispensaries will be registered


UPDATE: On Tuesday, an Arizona state court ordered the state to implement the dispensary provisions of the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act. The court also declared three medical marijuana regulations invalid and upheld other challenged regulations. The health department had said the state might wait until September or later to issue dispensary registrations. Hopefully, this means dispensaries will finally be registered by spring.

Today, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) announced she will not re-file her lawsuit questioning the validity of Arizona’s medical marijuana program. She also announced that once litigation is resolved challenging the health department rules, her health department will begin issuing dispensary registrations.

Gov. Brewer’s announcement follows a January 4 ruling dismissing her lawsuit. Judge Susan Bolton agreed with the ACLU, Department of Justice, and other attorneys, and found that there was no genuine, imminent threat that state employees would be prosecuted. Bolton said that Brewer could re-file if the problems with her complaint were addressed.

The U.S. attorney for Arizona at the time the case was filed, Dennis Burke, sent a letter to the Arizona health department on May 2, 2011 that flew in the face of the Obama Administration’s stated policy of not targeting those complying with state medical marijuana laws. Burke’s letter said “the [federal] CSA may be vigorously enforced against those individuals and entities who operate large marijuana production facilities” even if they are in compliance with state laws, as well as those who “knowingly facilitate the actions of traffickers.” After receiving the letter, Gov. Brewer directed Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne to file the litigation requesting clarity, even though Burke told media outlets that his office would not target state employees.

Today, Gov. Brewer wrote the acting U.S. attorney for Arizona, Ann Birmingham Scheel, noting her plans to finally move forward. Brewer requested clarification as to whether there are any activities state employees should not engage in and said “the Department of Justice and the administration which you serve will have a lot of explaining to do to the citizens of our country, and State of Arizona employees in particular, if the State’s reasonable and straightforward requests for clarity are ignored, and the Department of Justice then ambushes State employees with prosecution or civil penalties for implementing the AMMA and licensing medical marijuana dispensaries.”

Now, only one governor is stubbornly refusing to move forward with implementing a duly enacted medical marijuana dispensary program: Gov. Lincoln Chafee (I) of Rhode Island. Here’s hoping he finally sees the light.

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Truth Separates Paul and Gingrich After Iowa Caucus


Ron Paul may have achieved something of a victory by coming in third in the Iowa caucus yesterday, which is something few political wonks could have imagined a couple of months ago. Still, something should be said for the fact that he maintained his firm stance against the drug war after being narrowly beaten by candidates who are absolutely against marijuana reform.

In an early morning interview, Paul renewed his call to end federal interference in state marijuana laws and repeatedly called the drug war a failure. He even went so far as to call it a worse failure than alcohol prohibition! And according to Paul, his performance at the Iowa caucus proves that many Americans agree with him and are fed up.

Here’s the video, courtesy of Huffington Post.

And then we have Newt Gingrich. Earlier today at a press conference in New Hampshire, an SSDP member asked the candidate how he felt about states’ rights and how the Founding Fathers would have felt about growing marijuana. Read the rest of this entry »

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Ron Paul Argues for Ending Prohibition on “The Tonight Show”


People who are familiar with Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul have probably heard him speak about the need to end marijuana prohibition in the past. In fact, he mentions it quite often these days. Considering that only one other Republican candidate shares this opinion, it isn’t unusual to hear Paul bring this up in debate. Not only does this set him apart from the other candidates, but it is very telling to hear the rest of the field claim to be “conservatives” in favor of limited government and personal freedom, while supporting what is arguably the most intrusive, expensive, and wasteful government policy in existence.

This weekend, however, Ron Paul shared that message with a significant portion of America while speaking with Jay Leno on “The Tonight Show.” Judging from the audience response (not to mention a recent Gallup poll that shows a majority of voters support making marijuana legal), the need to end marijuana prohibition is becoming more obvious. Read the rest of this entry »

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