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  • by Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director August 10, 2012

    No matter the media medium, the tragic story of the federal government’s war against a beloved plant and the people who’re keen to it, can’t be told enough times, in enough ways.

    Artist-journalist Susie Cagle’s take on the federal government’s latest crackdown against medical cannabis providers in California is found at CartoonMovement.com

    This unique cartoon medium allows for audio embeds, some offensive language may be heard.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director July 31, 2012

    As I wrote last week in an op/ed for The Sacramento Bee, when it comes to the federal government’s policy on marijuana, not so much.

    Viewpoints: Science supporting medicinal pot is clear
    via The Sacramento Bee

    A dozen years ago, California lawmakers did something extraordinary. They authorized investigators throughout California to conduct a series of FDA-approved, gold standard trials to assess whether cannabis is safe and effective as a medicine.

    In all, researchers conducted more than a dozen clinical studies examining whether cannabis could meet objective standards of safety and therapeutic efficacy. For example, investigators at the University of California, San Francisco, assessed whether vaporizing cannabis could rapidly and consistently deliver the plant’s active ingredients to patients in a manner that is far safer than smoking. It could. At UC San Diego, clinicians examined whether inhaling cannabis posed potential harms to the immune system, particularly in subjects suffering from immune-compromised conditions like HIV. It didn’t. And at universities throughout the state, investigators studied whether marijuana provided statistically significant relief in a number of hard-to-treat conditions, such as multiple sclerosis and neuropathic (nerve) pain. Cannabis did so – consistently.

    … Nonetheless, policymakers – particularly those in Washington – have responded to these most recent scientific findings with no more than a collective yawn. Despite pledging to let “science and the scientific process … inform and guide decisions of my administration,” neither President Barack Obama nor Congress have taken any steps to amend federal law or federal policy to reflect the scientific reality that marijuana possesses well-established therapeutic value. In fact, this administration has taken just the opposite approach.

    In 2011, the Obama administration quashed out-of-hand an administrative petition that sought federal hearings regarding the present classification of cannabis as a substance with “no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.” In its rejection, the administration alleged, “The drug’s chemistry is not known and reproducible; there are no adequate safety studies; there are no adequate and well-controlled studies proving efficacy; the drug is not accepted by qualified experts; and the scientific evidence is not widely available.”

    Yet, the findings from California’s 12-year-old study program show that each of these claims is demonstrably false.

    It is long past time to reject the notion that we as a society possess insufficient evidence regarding the safety and efficacy of cannabis. The truth is that we know plenty. Most of all we know that there remains no valid scientific reason to justify the continued targeting, prosecution and incarceration of those Americans who consume cannabis responsibly.

    Read my entire commentary here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director July 19, 2012

    A bipartisan coalition of Congressional lawmakers yesterday reintroduced federal legislation to provide state-authorized medical marijuana patients and their providers with an affirmative defense from federal prosecution.

    The legislation, H.R. 6134 –- The Truth in Trials Act (Read the text of the bill here.) –- would allow certain federal defendants the opportunity to “introduce evidence (at trial) demonstrating that the marijuana-related activities for which the person stands accused were performed in compliance with state law regarding the medical use of marijuana.”

    It states, “It is an affirmative defense to a prosecution or proceeding under any federal law for marijuana-related activities, which the proponent must establish by a preponderance of the evidence, that those activities comply with state law regarding the medical use of marijuana.”

    Fifteen Democrats and three Republicans are sponsoring the measure.

    Under present law, federal defendants are legally prevented from presenting evidence at trial that their actions were in compliance with state medical marijuana laws — or even acknowledging the fact that cannabis possesses therapeutic value — because the substance remains classified as a Schedule I prohibited substance under federal law. Passage of the Truth in Trials Act would ease these restrictions.

    House Bill 6134 is pending before the House Committee on the Judiciary, which is Chaired by ardent pot prohibitionist Lamar Smith (R-TX).

    Advocates can voice their support for The Truth in Trials Act to their members of Congress here.

    Of course, this legislation would not even be necessary were the Obama administration simply to have upheld the President’s one-time pledge to no longer use federal “Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws” regulating the physician authorized use and distribution of medical cannabis. You can tell President Obama to halt the administration’s escalating attack on medical cannabis here.

  • by Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director July 13, 2012

    “What the End of Prohibition May Look Like”
    Authored By Justin Butler
    NORML Legal Intern
    J.D. Candidate, George Washington Law School, Spring 2013

    This upcoming November, voters in Washington and Colorado will go to the polls to decide whether marijuana should be totally legal in their respective States.  But will it matter?  After all, cannabis consumers and retailers in the 17 states that have legalized medical marijuana are still subject to harassment and arrest from the federal government.  The threat of federal action has halted the implementation of recently passed medical marijuana programs in Delaware and Rhode Island, and has slowed the progress of other States’ efforts to ensure that sick patients have access to the medicine they need.  In the first three years of the Obama administration, the federal government has participated in over 100 raids on medical marijuana dispensaries within states where medical marijuana is legal, even after promising shortly after assuming office that he would end federal raids on medical marijuana dispensaries that complied with state laws.   If voters in Washington and Colorado decide to take the leap and legalize marijuana, we have no reason to expect, based on prior actions, that the federal government will let these voters express and enforce their popular will unimpeded.

    To fix the system, we must first understand the system.  This paper seeks to explain why the federal government has the power to ignore the democratic will of its citizens and to continue to enforce unjust laws on voters who have decided that the imprisonment of cannabis consumers is a waste of government resources and a threat to civil society.  While to government’s power to regulate the economy isn’t new, this power was only “recently” (by legal standards) expanded to give the government the power to ban non-lethal drugs.  After all, banning alcohol required an Amendment to the Constitution.  Yet, less than 50 years later, the Supreme Court changed its mind and allowed the federal government to ban marijuana without state approval, much less a Constitutional Amendment.

    This apparently tyrannical power-grab stems, not solely from overzealous law makers, but from the inherent structure of our constitutional government.  There are certain explicit provisions in our Constitution, such as the Supremacy Clause, Commerce Clause, and Necessary and Proper Clause, that the Supreme Court has seized upon to allow the federal government to override the legislative wishes of individual states in the course of setting federal policy.  The first half of this paper provides a detailed overview of the powers provided to the federal government by the Constitution, and how these powers have been construed in recent times to allow the government to completely ban the possession, use, production, and sale of marijuana.

    The federal government’s power in this arena is not unlimited, however, and there are certain actions marijuana reformers can take to help prevent this crackdown as they pen future marijuana legalization ballot initiatives.  The second half of this paper explains how, through proper legal drafting, reform activists can limit the ability of the federal government to strike down or limit the effectiveness of state marijuana initiatives.

    If you would like to learn more on the subject of how the powers of the federal government operate to curtail your ability to consume cannabis, and how we can correct this injustice through the power of democracy, then this paper is for you.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director July 12, 2012

    Many of California’s most prominent and well-respected medical cannabis dispensaries and related facilities — including Oaksterdam University, Berkeley Patients Group, and Harborside Health Center (HHC) — flourished under the George W. Bush administration. But they’ll be lucky to survive President Barack Obama’s first term.

    On Tuesday, federal prosecutors targeted Harborside Health Center in Oakland, as well as its sister facility in San Jose, for closure and civil asset forfeiture. In court papers filed by the US Attorney for the northern district of California, Melinda Haag, the federal government alleges that Harborside is “operating in violation of federal law” by providing cannabis to state-qualified patients.

    The actions taken by the US Department of Justice stand in sharp contrast statements made by President Obama prior to his election, when he pledged to no longer use federal “Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws” regulating the physician authorized use and distribution of medical cannabis — a promise this administration has repeatedly broken. The actions also contradict more recent statements made by US Attorney Eric Holder to Congress in June when he asserted that Justice officials are solely targeting individuals who are “taking advantage of those state laws and going beyond what those states have authorized.”

    Yet despite Eric Holder and the President’s claims to the contrary, the DOJ’s actions against Harborside are consistent with a growing trend by the Obama administration to target and close many of the state’s most prominent, longstanding, and well-respected medical cannabis operations — including the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana (1996-2011), Berkeley Patients Group (2000-2012), and El Camino Wellness (2008-2012).

    In April, approximately 100 federal agents raided Oaksterdam University, a brick-and-mortar cannabis trade school in downtown Oakland, and several other properties rented by the facility’s founder Richard Lee. (To date, no criminal charges have been filed against Lee and O.U. has since re-opened.) Internal e-mails from the Oakland Police Department, made public earlier this week, reveal that local law enforcement officials had virtually no advance notice of the federal government’s actions against Oaksterdam, which they criticized as “resource-draining; … [it] exposed our staff to more conflict (harm) as well as complaints than necessary.”

    Commenting on this week’s action, US Attorney Melinda Haag pronounced:

    “This office has used its limited resources to address those marijuana dispensaries that operate close to schools, parks and playgrounds. As I have said in the past, this is a non-exclusive list of factors relevant to whether we should commence civil forfeiture actions against marijuana properties, and circumstances may require us to address other situations.

    I now find the need to consider actions regarding marijuana superstores such as Harborside. The larger the operation, the greater the likelihood that there will be abuse of the state’s medical marijuana laws, and marijuana in the hands of individuals who do not have a demonstrated medical need.

    The filing of the civil forfeiture complaints against the two Harborside properties is part of our measured effort to address the proliferation of illegal marijuana businesses in the Northern District of California.”

    However, in contrast to Haag’s public statement, the federal complaint filed Sunday cites no alleged violations of state law, instead claiming that HHC’s actions violate the federal US Controlled Substances Act.

    Speaking at a press conference today (Watch a recording of it here.)– Steve DeAngelo, Executive Director of Harborside Health Center — rebuffed Haag’s claims, stating that HHC is neither close to a school, nor out of compliance with state law. “Harborside has nothing to hide or be ashamed of,” DeAngelo said in a prepared statement. “We will contest the DOJ action openly and in public, and through all legal means at our disposal. We look forward to our day in court, and are confident that justice is on our side.”

    Harborside Health Center is licensed by the city of Oakland. It employs over 100 people and is Oakland’s second largest retail tax payer. Last year, HHC paid combined taxes in excess of $3 million, over a million dollars of which went directly to the City of Oakland.

    According to a post on the facility’s website, Harborside Health Center intends to remain open despite federal threats. It states: “Harborside is not in imminent danger of closing. We intend to keep the commitment we made six years ago to provide our patients with safe access to the medicine their doctors have recommended, for as long as we possibly can.”

    The US Attorney’s actions come the same week that former US House Speaker, Democrat Nancy Pelosi called on Congress to reform federal marijuana laws to acknowledge the plant’s therapeutic utility. Representative Pelosi had previously criticized the Obama administration’s actions this past May, stating, “I have strong concerns about the recent actions by the federal government that threaten the safe access of medicinal marijuana to alleviate the suffering of patients in California, and undermine a policy that has been in place under which the federal government did not pursue individuals whose actions complied with state laws providing for medicinal marijuana.”

    Harborside Health Center estimates that it serves over 100,000 members. The facility had previously been engaged in litigation with the Internal Revenue Service, which determined that the dispensary could not deduct standard business expenses such as payroll and rent, because it is involved in what the agency terms “the trafficking of controlled substances.”

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