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Gregoire

  • 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 May 2, 2011

    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.)

    Hawaii: House and Senate lawmakers could not come to agreement on Senate Bill 1458 before Friday’s legislative deadline, killing the measure for this year. As amended, the measure sought to restrict patients’ access to medical marijuana and would have imposed an exorbitant tax on the sale of medical cannabis via a single, state-licensed dispensary. As a result, NORML and our local allies The Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii had withdrawn its support for the measure. NORML and DPFHI will continue to partner in our efforts to work with legislators to enact sensible marijuana law reform in 2012.

    Maine: Members of the Joint Standing Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety will hear public testimony on Tuesday, May 10, in support of LD 1453, which seeks to regulate the commercial production and distribution of marijuana for adults over 21 years of age. You can support this effort via NORML’s ‘Take Action Center’ here, and you can watch a recent press conference in support of the measure here.

    Montana: On Friday, April 29, Gov. Brian Schwietzer announced that he intends to allow SB 423 to become law absent his signature. Senate Bill 423 repeals the state’s six-year-old medical marijuana law on July 1, 2011 and replaces it with entirely new provisions created by the legislature. The stated intent of this measure is to reduce the number of state-licensed medical cannabis patients from an estimated 28,000 today to less than 2,000.

    Among the most serious changes in law:

    * Chronic pain patients will face more stringent requirements to qualify under the law, and in some cases may require a recommendation from two separate physicians;

    * Patients found guilty of marijuana DUI will have their medical marijuana privileges revoked; Advising physicians will be reported to the Board of Medical Examiners if they recommend for more than 25 patients per year.

    * Physician will be responsible for the costs of this investigation;

    *Caregivers may accept no monetary compensation for providing cannabis to qualified patients.

    A full summary of SB 423’s provisions is available here.

    Montana NORML is still encouraging advocates to pressure the Governor to change his mind and veto SB 423. You can contact the Governor’s office and leave a message at: 406-444-3111. Montana NORML is also contemplating the possibility of taking legal action and/or initiating a citizens’ referendum to delay or block the implementation of this law. For more information on these efforts, please contact Montana NORML here (or on Facebook here or contact Patients and Families United here.

    Washington: Democrat Gov. Chris Gregoire on Friday vetoed sections of Senate Bill 5073, which 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. In her veto statement, Gov. Gregoire alleged that the licensing and registry provisions “would open public employees to federal prosecution.”

    Governor Gregoire did sign into law provisions in the measure reaffirming that qualified patients and their caregivers possess an ‘affirmative defense’ against state prosecution (Section 402 and 406). She also codified provisions of the measure that extend legal protections to patients or caregivers who participate in a ‘collective garden.’ A summary of the sections of SB 5073 that were approved, as well as a summary of sections that were vetoed, is available here and here. Additional information is available from the Washington state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) here or via Washington NORML here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director April 15, 2011

    It was just three years ago when President Obama (then candidate Obama) famously pledged to no longer use federal “Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws” regulating the physician authorized use of medical cannabis. And it was in the fall of 2009 that the administration issued the Ogden memorandum to federal prosecutors directing them to 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.”

    Yet in recent days the administration has seen fit to interject itself in the ongoing legislative debate to establish and regulate medical marijuana dispensaries in Washington state. Last week, on the eve of a final House vote regarding Senate Bill 5073, the U.S. attorney for Eastern Washington issued a statement warning landlords that they could face forfeiture of their properties if they rent to licensed medical marijuana facilities. Undeterred, the House passed SB 5073 (the Senate had previously passed an earlier version of the bill), setting up a potential showdown between lawmakers and Democrat Gov. Chris Gregoire.

    In an April 14, 2011 letter to Gov. Gregoire from the U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Attorneys Jenny Durkan of Seattle and Michael Ormsby of Spokane wrote, “[W]e maintain the authority to enforce the Controlled Substances Act vigorously against individuals and manufacturing and distribution activity involving marijuana, even if such activities are permitted under state law.”

    The letter continues: “The Washington legislative proposals will create a licensing scheme that permits large-scale marijuana cultivation and distribution. This would authorize conduct contrary to federal law. … Accordingly, the Department [of Justice] could consider civil and criminal legal remedies who set up marijuana growing facilities … or who knowingly facilitate the actions of the licensees. … [S]tate employees who conducted activities mandated by the Washington legislative proposals would not be immune from liability under the Controlled Substances Act.”

    Predictably, Gov. Gregoire is now shying away from the proposal. As reported by the Seattle Times, the Governor stated “In light of the Department of Justice’s guidance, it is clear that I cannot sign a bill that authorizes our state employees to license marijuana dispensaries when the department would prosecute those involved.” The Times noted that Gregoire “pledged to work with lawmakers on a new proposal.”

    Is the Governor using the Feds’ letter as political cover to denounce a measure that she never intended to sign in the first place? Maybe. But the bigger picture is that the federal officials still seem content to selectively interject in the state lawmaking process as it pertains to the medical access to marijuana.

    Will the Feds most recent threats have a potential chilling effect on pending legislation in Delaware, Illinois, and Vermont — additional states where lawmakers recently voted in favor of establishing similar state-licensed medical marijuana dispensaries? And what, if anything, do these threats imply for states like Colorado, Maine, New Mexico, and Rhode Island where such facilities have already been authorized by the state? Time will tell, but at present time it’s not looking good.

    ‘Change we can believe in?’ Not when it comes to medical marijuana policy.