Medical Marijuana, Prohibition

Good and Bad News for California Patients

November 24th, 2010 21 Comments Morgan Fox

First, the good news: California attorney general candidate Steve Cooley conceded the election to his opponent, Kamala Harris. While Harris may not be the most outspoken supporter of Prop 215 or medical marijuana patients, she is sure to be a better option. Cooley’s history of antagonism toward the medical marijuana field and complicity with federal law enforcement as district attorney of Los Angeles would have meant trouble for the state’s more than 350K registered patients. Disaster averted!

Unfortunately, the marijuana-hostile legal and civic environment that Cooley helped create in Southern California resulted in Los Angeles and Orange County supervisors voting to ban medical marijuana dispensaries in all unincorporated areas. Rather than use the tools at their disposal to deal with illegal dispensaries, the supervisors elected to effectively deny patients in those areas access to their medicine unless they feel like a nice long drive (assuming they are able to travel, or even get out of bed).

L.A. County patients can take one small comfort, though. It appears that higher politics has left Cooley feeling a little burned out, judging from a statement he released suggesting that this is his last term in office:

“I will complete my third term and finish my career as a professional prosecutor in the office where it began over 37 years ago,” he said.

Good riddance.

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Prohibition, Tax and Regulate

Feds Move to Outlaw Synthetic Marijuana Blends

November 24th, 2010 29 Comments Kate Zawidzki

The DEA announced today that it will temporarily classify five synthetic chemicals that mimic the effects of marijuana as Schedule 1 drugs, meaning they have no medical value, a high potential for abuse, and will be illegal to sell, purchase, or use. (Marijuana itself, as many of us are already well aware, is also classified as a Schedule 1 drug).

The move comes after more than a dozen states nationwide have passed bans on the herbal blends, which go by names such as “Spice” and “K2,” and — while advertised as “not for human consumption” — were sold in smoke shops around the country and used by customers as a legal alternative to marijuana. The products generally do not show up on drug tests, but there have been various reports of them causing adverse health effects, including accelerated heart rates, increased blood pressure, and several documented trips to the emergency room.

As I have argued before, the prevalence of these substances is simply another unintended consequence of the government’s irrational prohibition on natural, whole-plant marijuana, which comes with none of the side effects attributed to these chemical knock-offs. The DEA’s ban on the five synthetic versions could take effect in 30 days and last for at least a year, but as I’ve said before, the bans on fake marijuana will ultimately be as ineffective as the ban on real marijuana (used by 17 million Americans monthly, despite its Schedule 1 status) and could lead users and suppliers to begin experimenting with other, possibly more dangerous synthetic variants that mimic marijuana’s effects. Read the rest of this entry »

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The MPP Insider, Episode #019

November 23rd, 2010 2 Comments Kate Zawidzki

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Medical Marijuana

New Trade Association Launches for Legal Marijuana Industry

November 23rd, 2010 18 Comments Kate Zawidzki

In the latest sign of the growing legitimacy and political clout of America’s emerging marijuana industry, medical marijuana business leaders and others have announced the creation of the National Cannabis Industry Association, an organization founded with the express purpose of improving business conditions for the burgeoning marijuana industry. From today’s New York Times:

Based in Washington, the group, the National Cannabis Industry Association, will focus primarily on lobbying, but will also help medical marijuana businesses navigate a patchwork of laws that differ depending on location.

“This is an industry that is emerging — from the dispensaries to the ancillary businesses that are now coming out of the shadows,” said Aaron Smith, a medical marijuana advocate in Phoenix and the group’s executive director. “While there is good work being done, there isn’t anyone out there representing the industry’s interests directly.”

The group’s board members, which include some of the more prominent names in the medical marijuana industry, say the need for a national association has become increasingly apparent with the explosion of the legal marijuana business. Such businesses include dispensaries, growing facilities and equipment suppliers.

According to a press release the group sent out this morning, “In addition to working to repeal the federal prohibition of marijuana, NCIA is already focusing on more immediate policy goals for the industry such as ensuring that the nation’s revenue and banking policies are not out of step with state laws allowing medical cannabis sales.”

Readers may remember Aaron Smith from his past work as MPP’s California state policy director, where he helped advance marijuana law reform legislation in the California state legislature by working with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle (and was also a frequent contributor to this blog!). We wish him all the best in his new role at NCIA.

You can learn more about the group at

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Medical Marijuana, Video

Out-Foxed: Part III – Steve Fox Discusses Arizona’s Prop. 203 on Fox & Friends

November 19th, 2010 47 Comments Morgan Fox

In Steve Fox’s third appearance on Fox & Friends, he discusses the passage of Arizona’s Proposition 203. At the end of this “fair and balanced” debate, Mr. Fox is cut off before he can respond to some extremely dubious statements. Read Mr. Fox’s rebuttal after the video.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Medical Marijuana, Prohibition, Tax and Regulate

Sen. Jeff Sessions is “A Big Fan of the DEA”

November 18th, 2010 42 Comments Kate Zawidzki

There are now 15 states with medical marijuana laws, but at a Senate committee hearing yesterday to confirm the next head of the DEA, not a single person asked nominee Michele Leonhart how she would address this growing divide between state and federal marijuana policy. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R – AL) did, however, take the opportunity to make sure Leonhart will remain a loyal, unquestioning, die-hard drug warrior.

Mike Riggs has the story in today’s Daily Caller:

Perhaps due to the failure of Prop 19 in California (and despite the passage of medical marijuana in Arizona), Kohl, along with Democratic Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Al Franken of Minnesota, made no mention of medical marijuana. Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, however, made it his prime focus.

“I’m a big fan of the DEA,” said Sessions, before asking Leonhart point blank if she would fight medical marijuana legalization.

“I have seen what marijuana use has done to young people, I have seen the abuse, I have seen what it’s done to families. It’s bad,” Leonhart said. “If confirmed as administrator, we would continue to enforce the federal drug laws.”

“These legalization efforts sound good to people,” Sessions quipped. “They say, ‘We could just end the problem of drugs if we could just make it legal.’ But any country that’s tried that, Alaska and other places have tried it, have failed. It does not work,” Sessions said.

“We need people who are willing to say that. Are you willing to say that?” Sessions asked Leonhart.

“Yes, I’ve said that, senator. You’re absolutely correct [about] the social costs from drug abuse, especially from marijuana,” Leonhart said. “Legalizers say it will help the Mexican cartel situation; it won’t. It will allow states to balance budgets; it won’t. No one is looking [at] the social costs of legalizing drugs.”

Actually, Ms. Leonhart, there is a vast academic literature exploring the social cost of liberalizing drug laws, and the overwhelming conclusion most studies reach is that prohibition does far more harm than most of the substances themselves ever could, especially marijuana. Riggs cites just one example, a 2009 Cato Institute white paper released eight years after Portgual decriminalized illegal drugs, which concludes: “None of the nightmare scenarios touted by preenactment decriminalization opponents — from rampant increases in drug usage among the young to the transformation of Lisbon into a haven for ‘drug tourists’ — has occurred.” He could have also cited another Cato study from this year showing that the U.S. could improve its national budget by nearly $18 billion a year if marijuana were taxed and regulated like alcohol, a legal substance that has eight times the health care costs of marijuana, and is – according to one California study – responsible for 403 times more emergency room admissions than marijuana.

But in the twisted fantasyland where people like Sessions and Leonhart spend most of their time, things like “facts” and “studies” don’t seem to carry as much weight as the unshakeable notion that drugs are bad and so, in positions of authority, “we need people who are willing to say that,” as Sessions put it.

The disgraceful exchange between Leonhart and Sessions is just another example of how the American public is far ahead of politicians when it comes to marijuana policy reform issues, and why our movement will continue to look to individual states – and not the federal government – to drive change.

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Medical Marijuana, Prohibition

Senate Committee to Question DEA Head Nominee Michele Leonhart Tomorrow

November 16th, 2010 15 Comments Kate Zawidzki

After serving two years as interim DEA administrator, where she oversaw continued raids on medical marijuana providers and personally rejected an application for FDA-level research on marijuana, Michele Leonhart is scheduled for a confirmation hearing tomorrow before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

While her nomination has been widely opposed by drug policy reform groups – including MPP – it appears all but certain that Leonhart will be confirmed by the Senate.

President Bush first nominated Leonhart for this position in 2007. The Obama administration re-nominated her in February, even though she has overseen actions that contradict Obama administration directives and made comments that clearly counter reality. The most egregious:

  • Despite last year’s Justice Department directive to respect state medical marijuana laws, the DEA under Leonhart’s leadership has repeatedly raided medical marijuana patients and providers who operate under state law. In July, for example, the DEA blatantly ignored a Mendocino County (CA) ordinance to regulate medical marijuana cultivation by raiding the very first grower to register with the sheriff. Joy Greenfield, 68, had paid more than $1,000 for a permit to cultivate 99 plants in a collective garden that had been inspected and approved by the local sheriff. Informed that Ms. Greenfield had the support of the sheriff, the DEA agent in charge responded by saying, “I don’t care what the sheriff says.”
  • In January 2009, Leonhart rejected an application from University of Massachusetts professor Lyle Craker to conduct FDA-level research on marijuana in the hopes of getting it rescheduled. In doing so, she opposed recommendations from both a DEA administrative law judge and the American Medical Association.
  • Last year Leonhart heralded increased drug violence in Mexico – which has claimed about 30,000 lives in four years – as a sign of success: “Our view is that the violence we have been seeing is a signpost of the success our very courageous Mexican counterparts are having,” she said. “The cartels are acting out like caged animals, because they are caged animals.”

Sources say Leonhart’s confirmation is virtually guaranteed, so our best hope is to make sure senators on the Judiciary Committee ask her tough questions. If your senator sits on the Judiciary Committee, you can urge them to press Leonhart on her plans for the future by clicking here.

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Medical Marijuana

Arizona Becomes 15th Medical Marijuana State!

November 14th, 2010 28 Comments Kate Zawidzki

After a final tally of late provisional ballots, the Associated Press is reporting that Arizona voters have approved Proposition 203, a state ballot measure that will allow patients suffering from cancer, AIDS, and other life-threatening illnesses to use medical marijuana with a recommendation from their doctor. The measure passed by just 4,341 votes out of more than 1.67 million cast.

Arizona now joins the list of 14 other states, along with the District of Columbia, that have passed medical marijuana laws since 1996.

“Voters in Arizona have sided with science and compassion while dealing yet another blow to our nation’s cruel and irrational prohibition on marijuana,” said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, which provided significant funding and support to the Arizona Medical Marijuana Policy Project, the local group that ran the Proposition 203 campaign. “Arizona’s law now reflects the mainstream public opinion that seriously ill people should not be treated like criminals if marijuana can provide them relief, and that doctors should be able to recommend marijuana to patients if they believe it can help alleviate their suffering.”

Seventy percent of Americans favor making marijuana legally available for doctors to recommend in order to reduce pain and suffering, according to a recent Gallup poll.

“Sadly, patients in 35 states still have no legal protection if marijuana is the medicine that works best for them,” Kampia said. “We will continue working in the years ahead to ensure that others are awarded the respect and compassionate care that seriously ill patients in Arizona will now enjoy, thanks to this law.”

Proposition 203 allows for the establishment of about 120 tightly run, state-regulated clinics that will dispense marijuana to qualified patients in Arizona. Patients who live more than 25 miles from a clinic will be allowed to grow their own medicine.

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The MPP Insider, Episode #018

November 12th, 2010 8 Comments Kate Zawidzki

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Medical Marijuana

Medical Marijuana Patient Fired by Wal-Mart Gets First Day in Court

November 12th, 2010 20 Comments Kate Zawidzki

Today a federal judge in Michigan will begin hearing arguments in a lawsuit filed on behalf of Joseph Casias, the legal medical marijuana patient who was wrongfully terminated by a Battle Creek Wal-Mart because he tested positive for marijuana during a drug screen.

Casias, 30, is a husband, father of two, and 2008 store Associate of the Year, who suffers from an inoperable brain tumor and sinus cancer that is now in remission. His outrageous firing last year for using a state-legal, doctor-approved medicine to ease his pain garnered widespread media coverage and led MPP and others to call for a national boycott of Wal-Mart.

Casias is being represented by attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union and its Michigan chapter. According to the Battle Creek Enquirer, today “Casias’ attorneys will ask the court to deny a motion filed by Wal-Mart seeking dismissal of the case and reject the company’s attempts to have the case tried in federal court instead of state court.”

Casias’s firing violates the “Michigan Medical Marihuana Act,” which MPP helped pass in 2008 and reads in part that a qualifying patient shall not be “denied any right or privilege, including but not limited to … disciplinary action by a business or occupational or professional licensing board or bureau, for the medical use of marihuana.” Under the law, the definition of “medical use” contains “internal possession”— having marijuana in one’s system. The law does not require employers to allow the “ingestion of marihuana in any workplace” or employees to work while under the influence, but there has been no allegation that Casias used marijuana at work or worked while impaired.

“Joseph is exactly the kind of patient Michigan voters had in mind when they passed the [Michigan Medical Marihuana Act],” read an ACLU statement when the lawsuit was first filed. “We’re asking the court to not allow Wal-Mart to punish Joseph for merely taking refuge from his pain, and using marijuana as allowed by state law. Corporations should never be allowed to force patients to choose between their health care and their job.”

We’ll be following the case closely, so stay tuned for details.

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