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  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director May 4, 2011

    The Obama administration’s position on medical marijuana, circa 2009 (via the Ogden memo to all United States attorneys):

    “The prosecution of significant traffickers of illegal drugs, including marijuana, and the disruption of illegal drug manufacturing and trafficking networks continues to be a core priority in the Department’s efforts against narcotics and dangerous drugs, and the Department’s investigative and prosecutorial resources should be directed towards these objectives. As a general matter, pursuit of these priorities should not focus federal resources in your States on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana.”

    The Obama administration’s position on medical marijuana, circa 2011 (via the May 2, 2011 letter sent from the office of the United States Attorney, District of Arizona, to the Arizona Department of Health Services re: the implementation of the voter-approved Medical Marijuana Program):

    “The United States Attorneys Office … will vigorously prosecute individuals and organizations that participate in the unlawful manufacturing, distribution and marketing activity involving marijuana, even if such activities are permitted under state law.”

    A lot can change in two years — including the administration’s attitude toward the state-authorized use and distribution of cannabis for medical purposes.

    In April, NORML blogged about the U.S. Department of Justice, particularly U.S. Attorneys Jenny Durkan of Seattle and Michael Ormsby of Spokane, threatening “civil and criminal legal remedies” (read: sanctions) against Washington state citizens, including state employees, who assist with or engage in the production or distribution of medical cannabis, “even if such activities are permitted under state law.” The U.S. Attorneys’ threats came in response to an inquiry from Gov. Chris Gregoire, a Democrat, who most likely was seeking ‘political cover’ so that she could publicly ‘justify’ her veto of legislation (SB 5073) that sought to license and regulate the dispensing of medical cannabis to qualified persons, and would have enacted additional legal protections for patients who voluntarily participated in a statewide registry. The threats worked; Gov. Gregoire cited them in her veto statement Friday.

    In fact, the threats worked so well, that in recent days U.S. Attorneys in other states with active medical marijuana programs have begun issuing similar menacing statements.

    Last week in Colorado, where state regulators have licensed over 800 state-licensed medical cannabis dispensaries, U.S. Attorney John Walsh sent a letter to the state’s Attorney General alleging that the federal Justice Department will “vigorously” prosecute individuals or organizations engaged in “unlawful manufacturing and distribution activity involving marijuana, even if such activities are permitted under state law.” A spokesman for Walsh’s office adds, “In the eye of the federal government, there’s only one type of marijuana. And marijuana is a Schedule I controlled [federally prohibited] substance.”

    Arizona U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke fired off a similarly worded letter this week to Will Humble, the director of the state Department of Health Services, which is overseeing the implementation of Proposition 203. Under the law, which was approved by voters last fall and was enacted on April 15, the state must register qualified patients who have a doctor’s recommendation for cannabis and also license dispensaries to provide it to them. However, according to Burke, said dispensaries that are compliant with the state’s law will “not [be] protect[ed] from [federal] criminal prosecution, asset forfeiture, and other civil penalties.”

    Finally, in Rhode Island, Gov. Lincoln Chafee announced this week that he is suspending the state’s nascent medical marijuana distribution program, set to begin this June. In March, the representatives from the Rhode Island Department of Health selected three applicants to operate the state’s first-ever, government licensed medical cannabis dispensaries. (The dispensaries program was initially approved by lawmakers in 2009, but the winning applicants were not decided upon until two years later.) Predictably, Chafee’s abrupt change of heart came after receiving a hand-delivered letter from U.S. Attorney Peter F. Neronha Friday threatening to prosecute civilly and/or criminally those involved in the dispensary program.

    So what’s the impetus for the Obama administration’s sudden decision to play rhetorical hard ball? NORML Outreach Coordinator and podcaster Russ Belville speculates:

    “Mr. Obama’s … true intention is to stifle the development of any viable legal cannabis distribution industry. By sending threat letters to Rhode Island and Arizona, states that have created clear and unambiguous laws for medical cannabis providers to follow, it is obvious that Mr. Obama isn’t opposed to medical cannabis, per se, but terribly opposed to medical cannabusiness.

    Belville adds: “If (medical cannabusiness) establish (themselves), people will become accustomed to safe, secure, well-run businesses that deliver consistent, reliable, tested cannabis products. They’ll appreciate the way these places revitalize sagging economies, provide jobs, and contribute taxes to budget-starved localities. They’ll realize all the scaremongering by the government about what would happen if marijuana was legal, even for sick people, was hysterical propaganda. [And] they’ll begin to wonder why we don’t just legalize cannabis for everyone, create more jobs, raise more revenue, and use these established businesses as the distribution points.”

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director April 7, 2011

    Regulations have been finalized to allow for the sanctioned-use and dispensing of medical cannabis in two more regions of the country: Arizona and in the nation’s capitol, Washington, DC.

    In Arizona, representatives from the Arizona Department of Health Services have approved rules governing the state’s soon-to-be-implemented Arizona Medical Marijuana Program. Voters directed the state to approve regulations regarding the use and distribution of medicinal marijuana in November when they decided in favor of Proposition 203 — making Arizona the fifteenth state since 1996 to legalize the physician-authorized use of cannabis. Program rules, physician certification forms, and answers to frequently asked questions are all available online from the Arizona Department of Health Services here.

    Arizona patients may begin qualifying for the program next week, and dispensary applications will be accepted beginning June 1. All patients initially approved by the state will have the option to cultivate their own marijuana. However, patients who reside within 25 miles of a state-licensed dispensary will lose this option once such facilities are up and running later this fall.

    In the District of Columbia, city leaders have finally signed off on long-awaited rules regulating patients’ use and access to cannabis. Those rules are expected to take effect April 15. The just-finalized regulations will permit D.C. officials to allow as many as ten cultivation centers and five dispensaries in the District. Permit applications are anticipated to be available by April 17.

    The forthcoming rules implement facets of I-59, the Legalization of Marijuana for Medical Treatment Initiative, a 1998 municipal ballot measure which garnered 69 percent of the vote yet was never implemented. Under the new regulations, qualifying D.C. patients will be able to obtain medical cannabis at licensed dispensaries, but will not be permitted under the law to grow their own medicine.

    Washington DC’s forthcoming program is limited to residents of the District of Columbia and is not reflective of any broader change in federal policy.

    Additional information on these and other state medical marijuana programs is available from the NORML website here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director April 6, 2011

    Marijuana law reform legislation is pending in over twenty states, and liberalization measures have been pre-filed in many more. Below is this week’s edition of NORML’s Weekly Legislative Round Up — activists’ one-stop guide to the latest statewide votes and happenings relevant to marijuana law reform.

    For a listing of all of the pending marijuana law reform proposals that NORML is tracking, please visit NORML’s ‘Take Action Center’ here. (For a map of pending legislation, please visit here.)

    Arizona: The Arizona Department of Health Services last week finalized rules for the Arizona Medical Marijuana Program. Patients may begin qualifying for the program next week, and dispensary applications will be accepted beginning June 1. Program rules, physician certification forms, and answers to frequently asked questions are all available online here. Arizona is the fifteenth state since 1996 to allow for the use of medical cannabis by qualified patients.

    Connecticut: On Tuesday, members of the Joint Judiciary Committee overwhelmingly voted in favor Governor’s Bill No. 1015, which seeks to allow qualified patients to use and cultivate marijuana for medical purposes. The Committee is expected to act on separate decriminalization legislation (See NORML’s recent op/ed in favor here) imminently. You can support both proposals via NORML’s ‘Take Action Center’ here and here. You can get involved with Connecticut NORML here.

    Delaware: On Thursday, March 30, members of the Delaware Senate voted 18 to 3 in favor of Senate Bill 17, The Delaware Medical Marijuana Act. The measure now awaits action from the House of Representatives. You can contact your House member in support of this effort via NORML’s ‘Take Action Center’ here.

    Montana: Members of the Montana Senate last week resurrected and then passed House Bill 161, which repeals the state’s six-year-old, voter-approved medical marijuana law. Senate lawmakers voted 29 to 21 in favor of the GOP-backed measure, which had previously stalled in committee. The bill is now expected to go before Gov. Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat, who has voiced support for the state’s medical cannabis program. You can contact the Governor and urge him to veto this draconian legislation here. Additional information is available from our allies Montana NORML and Patients & Families United.

    North Carolina: Legislation that seeks to legalize the physician-supervised use of medical marijuana has been reintroduced in the North Carolina legislature. House Bill 577 amends state law to “authorize an individual to use marijuana for medical purposes as directed by a physician.” HB 577 would allow patients both the ability to cultivate their own cannabis at home or to purchase it at state licensed distribution centers. This proposal has been referred to the House Committee on Rules, Calendar, and Operations, but has yet to be assigned a hearing. You can urge your lawmakers to support this proposal here.

    Vermont: Senate lawmakers are expected to act this week on SB 17, which seeks to allow for state-licensed facilities to provide medical marijuana to authorized patients. Similar legislation is already in place in several states, including Colorado, Maine, New Mexico, and Rhode Island. You can contact your state Senator about SB 17 via NORML’s ‘Take Action Center’ here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director February 2, 2011

    Marijuana law reform legislation is pending in over a dozen states, and progressive measures have been pre-filed in many more. Below is this week’s edition of NORML’s Weekly Legislative Round Up — activists’ one-stop guide to pending marijuana law reform legislation around the country.

    ** A note to first time readers: NORML can not introduce legislation in your state. Nor can any other non-profit advocacy organization. Only your state representatives, or in some cases an individual constituent (by way of their representative; this is known as introducing legislation ‘by request’) can do so. NORML can — and does — work closely with like-minded politicians and citizens to reform marijuana laws, and lobbies on behalf of these efforts. But ultimately the most effective way — and the only way — to successfully achieve statewide marijuana law reform is for local stakeholders and citizens to become involved in the political process and to make the changes they want to see.

    Arizona: House Bill 2228, introduced in the legislature this week, amends state law so that the adult possession of up to two ounces of marijuana is reduced from a potential felony (punishable by 1.5 years in prison and a $150,000 fine) to a “petty offense” punishable by a $100 fine. Passage of this measure would amend Arizona law from one of the strictest in the nation to one of the most lenient. The bill awaits action from the House Rules Committee, whose members may be contacted here. You can contact your own House member in support of HB 2228 via NORML’s ‘Take Action’ center here. Further information regarding statewide marijuana law reform efforts is available from Arizona NORML.

    Oklahoma: Senators must assign SB 573, The “Compassionate Use Act of 2011,” to committee by the end of this week in order for lawmakers to act on it. If you reside in Oklahoma, please visit NORML’s ‘Take Action’ page here to contact your state senator and urge him or her to take action on SB 573. After you have done so, please also contact the Senate leadership (Sen. Brian Bingman-Pro Tem and Sen. Mike Schulz-majority floor leader) and urge them to assign SB 573 to committee. Please leave a message stating: “The use of marijuana as medicine is a public health issue and is worthy of debate. Please assign Senate Bill 573, ‘Compassionate Use Act of 2011,’ to committee so that lawmakers have the opportunity to address the needs of Oklahoma’s patients.” For more information on this and other statewide marijuana law reform efforts in Oklahoma, please contact Oklahoma NORML. You can watch a recent interview with Oklahoma NORML director Norma Sapp discussing this measure on Fox News here.

    California: Legislation that would make it unlawful “for an employer to discriminate against” persons who are authorized under state law to use medical marijuana is pending in the California Senate. Senate Bill 129 declares it unlawful under state law “for an employer to discriminate against a person in hiring, termination, or any term or condition of employment or otherwise penalize a person, if the discrimination is based upon the person’s status as a qualified patient or a positive drug test for marijuana,” if the drug test result is indicative of previous, off-the-job marijuana use (e.g., a positive test for marijuana metabolites on a urine screen). The measure responds to a California Supreme Court ruling (Ross v. Ragingwire Telecom), which held that employers could fire employees for their off-the-job marijuana use — even if they were state-authorized patients who were not impaired at work. You can learn more about this measure and other pending marijuana law reform efforts in California at California NORML. If you live in California, you can urge your state Senator to support SB 129 by clicking here.

    Maryland: Over 50 House Delegates and over 20 Senators have reintroduced legislation to regulate the limited use and distribution of medical marijuana by authorized patients. Last year the Senate overwhelmingly approved this measure, but it failed to gain support in the House. To be in contact with your state Senator and Delegate about these reforms, please visit NORML’s ‘Take Action’ Center here.

    Montana: House lawmakers are debating today House Bill 161, which seeks to repeal the state’s six-year-old medical marijuana law. More information on this hearing is available from our allies Patients & Families United here. Read NORML’s rebuttal to this draconian proposal here. If you live in Montana, please urge your lawmakers to oppose this effort by clicking here. You can also get involved by contacting Montana NORML here, or on Facebook here.

    To be in contact with your state officials regarding these measures and other pending legislation, please visit NORML’s Take Action Center here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director November 18, 2010

    It was a little over a year ago when the United States Department of Justice announced that it would back away from pursuing cases against medical marijuana patients and providers who are acting in accordance with state and local laws.

    “As a general matter, pursuit of [federal law enforcement] priorities should not focus federal resources … on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana,” The DOJ announced on October 19, 2009. “For example, prosecution of individuals with cancer or other serious illnesses who use marijuana as part of a recommended treatment regimen consistent with applicable state law, or those caregivers in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state law who provide such individuals with marijuana, is unlikely to be an efficient use of limited federal resources.”

    Apparently Michelle Leonhart, President Obama’s nominee to direct the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, didn’t get the memo.

    Speaking yesterday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, on day one of her Senate confirmation process, Leonhart pledged to ignore the administration’s formal medical marijuana guidelines.

    Michele Leonhart one step closer to officially heading up the DEA
    via The Daily Caller

    [excerpt] Acting director Michele Leonhart is that much closer to officially heading up the Drug Enforcement Agency after successfully navigating a hearing with the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.

    If confirmed to the position she’s already held for three years, Leonhart said she would expand the DEA’s anti-cartel operations in Mexico and continue to enforce federal drug laws in states where medical marijuana is legal.

    … 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.”

    It is shocking to learn that not a single Senator who attended the hearing, in particular Democrat Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse from Rhode Island, had the courage to demand that Ms. Leonhart respect the laws of the 15 states that have legalized the use of marijuana as a medicine. In the case of Sen. Whitehouse, his own state is now in the process of licensing state-certified marijuana providers and distributors; yet he appears to have no problem with the idea of appointing a federal official who declares her intention to put his own constituents in federal prison.

    It gets even more disturbing. In the days leading up to Wednesday’s initial confirmation hearing, a coalition of advocacy groups — including NORML, Americans for Safe Access, and others called on members of the Senate Judiciary to ask Ms. Leonhart tough questions regarding her public record, one that is incompatible with state laws, public opinion, and with the policies of this administration. Yet not a single Senator did so.

    There is a growing divide between state and federal law concerning the use of marijuana for medical purposes, and it would only take members of the Senate — or Ms. Leonhart for that matter — a cursory scan of today’s google headlines to see it:

    Prop 203 Passes: Medical Marijuana to Be Legal in Arizona
    via CBS News

    New Mexico approves six new medical marijuana producers
    via The New Mexico Independent

    Maine couple cleared to open marijuana clinic
    via The Associated Press

    DC revises medical marijuana regulations
    via Comcast

    As we’ve written before, as Interim DEA director, Ms. Leonhart has overseen dozens of federal raids on medical marijuana providers, producers, and laboratory facilities that engage in the testing of cannabis potency and quality. Yesterday Ms. Leonhart pledged to continue these actions — actions that violate this administration’s own written policies, and more importantly, actions that target the civilians of fifteen states and the District of Columbia. These people are the constituents of 30 percent of the U.S. Senate; yet not even one of these elected officials appears willing to speak up for them. That is disgraceful.

    Want to write or call your Senator about Ms. Leonhart’s nomination process? You can still do so here and here.

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