Posts Tagged ‘Medical Marijuana’
A Californian medical marijuana advocacy group is taking up a civil case against the federal government in an effort to stop federal raids of medical marijuana dispensaries in California. The group is taking the unusual move as a result of frustration and despair of the Justice Department’s unwavering attack on medical marijuana growers and dispensaries all over California.
The group, called Americans For Safe Access, is taking US Attorney General Eric Holder to court, with the justification that the Justice Department raids go against the 10th amendment of the US constitution. While marijuana remains an illegal substance in the US, even for medicinal purposes, state governments are ostensibly free to legislate medical marijuana as they see fit. Medical marijuana dispensaries and growers have been licensed and permitted in California since 1996 with relatively minimal intervention from federal authorities.
However, of late the US Justice Department has instigated a sustained campaign of attack against medical marijuana businesses, and the Californian state legislature has failed to protect these dispensaries and growers from federal intervention.
The lawsuit brought by Americans For Safe Access against Attorney General Holder (as well as northern California federal prosecutor Melinda Haag) alleges that this federal aggression violates the 10th amendment, which states that the federal government cannot compel state authorities to contravene state law.
While federal raids do not violate the constitution in principle, Americans For Safe Access allege that federal prosecutors and the Attorney General have sent letters threatening local officials if they go against federal laws and implement state law. They claim that the federal government has become increasingly more aggressive and draconian in their quest to uphold federal law, and the situation has become untenable in the state.
Americans For Safe Access cites a federal communiqué delivered to the city of Oakland, California. In this letter, local officials were warned of federal prosecution if they failed to enforce federal law. The legal precedent is that this action is unconstitutional. While federal authorities are completely within their rights to enforce federal law, they are unable to compel state or city authorities to do the same.
On the surface, it seems like a pretty clear case. While Americans For Safe Access will do well to win this lawsuit against the legal might of the federal government’s prosecutors, there is no doubt this will draw attention to their plight in the local and national media.
This will undoubtedly cause the federal government’s prosecutors and the Attorney General to be very careful how they address local officials in future. The federal marijuana enforcement program would be put in jeopardy by further unconstitutional acts, and there is no doubt that they will seek to preserve the integrity of this program by stopping the threats against officials working at the state and local level. Whether this will be a good thing for medical marijuana in California as a whole remains to be seen.
In Nova Scotia, Canada, Sam Riley recently made headlines due to his audacious bid to get the Nova Scotia Supreme Court to recognize his need for medical marijuana growing equipment as a special need worthy of government funding.
In Canada, the Department of Community Services considers funding applications for medically necessary equipment and healthcare supplies that fall outside the boundaries of standard medical equipment for standard medical needs. The appellant, Sam Riley, felt that medical marijuana growing equipment fell within the definition of a “special need” that must be funded under provincial legislation. His claim was that he needs medical marijuana in order to medicate a multitude of medical conditions, and to alleviate his suffering.
Upon being denied his request for funding, he took it to his local court of law to protest against the decision. When he was denied, he took it all the way to the Nova Scotia Supreme Court. The Supreme Court also found that marijuana growing equipment did not fall under the “special need” category under provincial regulations in this case.
The major factor in Judge Cindy Bourgeois’ decision was the lack of a medical marijuana production license. While Judge Bourgeois was very careful not to set a legal precedent, she made it clear that in Riley’s case funding was not required due to his lack of a production license.
The Judge also ruled that the government would be unable to fund growing equipment as a special need if the actual marijuana that the growing equipment produced could not also be designated as a special need. As Sam Riley is without a license to produce medical marijuana, in this case the government would be unable to provide funding.
The Nova Scotia Supreme Court has a reputation for strict interpretation of legislature, so it is no surprise that Judge Bourgeois was unwilling or unable to relax the rules in the case of Sam Riley. His lack of a medical marijuana growing license from Health Canada made the decision a particularly easy one.
While the government of Canada and Nova Scotia’s provincial government both have a relatively relaxed attitude to medical marijuana growing, this decision comes as no surprise. As soon as public funding requests come into play, decisions and interpretations of guidelines often become much stricter. The fact that Riley wasn’t the holder of a medical marijuana license makes the court’s decision even more inevitable.
While this decision might seem like a blow to medical marijuana in Canada, it shouldn’t be taken as such. Sam Riley was simply a man who over extended himself in his litigation. While it is sad that Mr. Riley will not be able to grow medical marijuana with the aid of state funding, Canada’s medical marijuana laws ensure that if he does indeed have a genuine need of medical marijuana he will be able to receive it, despite the courts ruling against him in his legal bid to receive public funding.
Medical marijuana has been tolerated in California since the Compassionate Use Act, proposition 215, was passed in 1996. Supporters of the act wheeled out a large number of very sick people who could benefit from the use of medical marijuana to support their proposition. In recent years, however, many people (including law enforcement agents from the federal government) have criticised medical marijuana dispensaries in the state for focusing too much on their own business interests, and too little on the welfare of their patients.
There is no doubt that the medical marijuana trade in California has been vastly commercialised. While officially medical marijuana dispensaries are only supposed to act as non profit organisations, the marketing efforts put forth by the dispensaries serves to disprove that notion. While of course many medical marijuana dispensaries are focused purely on the care of their patients, many dispensaries seem to be running more of an enterprise and less of a charity.
While even medical marijuana has a clandestine feel, in recent years operations have become more blatant. A gigantic medical marijuana growing operation earlier this year applied to the City of Oakland for permission to run a massive 50,000 foot square grow room inside an enormous warehouse. The federal government stepped in to remind local officials that there is no way an operation of that size could be tolerated, even under California’s relaxed medical marijuana laws.
The federal government has justified their recent crackdown against medical marijuana operations in California with this argument. They claim that medical marijuana dispensaries are basically legally tolerated drug dealers, gaining the same amount of massive tax free profit as drug dealers are usually accustomed to.
When proposition 215 was originally passed, many voters believed that medical marijuana would be dispensed by doctors in white coats from behind heavily regulated pharmacy counters. This couldn’t be further from the case, and the federal government aren’t pleased about how things have turned out in California.
One medical marijuana dispensary is prepared to take full advantage of the clause in proposition 215 that states that medical marijuana can be provided for “any illness for which marijuana provides relief.” They are prepared to dispense marijuana for 258 conditions, including obesity and writers cramp.
The sad thing is that the unscrupulous medical marijuana dispensaries are causing problems for those with a genuine need for medical marijuana, the cancer patients, AIDS victims, and suffers from Multiple Sclerosis that the Compassionate Use Act was intended to help. Those with severe and complex illnesses that require medical marijuana for pain relief will be forced to seek their medicine elsewhere as a result of federal raids.
While the federal government are obviously largely to blame for this due to their intolerant and backwards stance towards the use of medical marijuana, they are only being inflamed by the blatant profiteering of a minority of large dispensaries in California. It will only be after the commoditisation of medical marijuana stops that the federal government will step back again.
Christie asked the federal government to issue New Jersey a freedom-from-prosecution guarantee on the medical marijuana issue. He’s using that as a reason to thwart the Legislature’s approval (and clearly, based on poll after poll, the public’s blessing) for a reasonable approach to regulating and selling marijuana to those with a physician-documented need for it.
If the U.S. Justice Department were coming down hard on California or Oregon or Delaware, suing them for violating federal law with their medical marijuana programs — all of which are much more liberal than New Jersey’s proposal — then Christie’s request for legal insulation would seem logical instead of cynical.
New Jersey already has one of the most conservative medical marijuana laws on the books with state approved strains and only a handful of state sanctioned dispensaries to obtain the medecine. The fear from federal prosecution while states like California, Oregon, and Colorado continue to operate unhindered with much more liberal laws is just irrational. Christie is simply playing politics and protecting his own federal interests and aspirations while sick patients continue to stand by and wait, hoping that cooler heads will ultimately prevail.
On March 26th three medical marijuana bills were introduced in Congress with support from patient advocates. The most significant of the three bills is one introduced by Congressman Frank (D-MA), which reclassifies marijuana from its current status as a dangerous drug with no medical value. Another bill, introduced by Congressman Polis (D-CO), will allow banks and other financial institutions to provide services to medical marijuana businesses without being subject to “suspicious activity” reporting requirements. The third bill, introduced by Congressman Stark (D-CA), changes the federal tax code “to allow a deduction for expenses in connection with the trade or business of selling marijuana intended for patients for medical purposes pursuant to State law.
If passed, the Frank bill would not only recognize marijuana’s medical value, but also provide a medical necessity defense in federal court, a right not currently afforded to patients and caregivers who are in compliance with their local and state laws. The Frank bill would also usher forth greater research into the therapeutic properties of cannabis and create incentives for the development of new cannabis-based medication. Advocates hope the Polis bill, if passed, will end the current ban on services for medical marijuana businesses by institutions like Wells Fargo, CitiCorp and Bank of America. The Stark bill has the potential to end dozens of audits by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) currently taking place, and settle once and for all whether the IRS can demand tax on gross or just net proceeds.
I feel pleased that we have some people fighting for us at the federal level and that this bickering between the states and the feds might finally find some common ground. For real change to occur it’s absolutely paramount that it happens at the federal level.
On a side note check out http://cannabisclassifieds.com/ for personal and business classified advertisements pertaining to the world of cannabis!
With the law already passed by the New Jersey legislature more than a year ago all that reamains is for the dispensing mechanism to be put in place which is expected this summer. Medicine can only be dispensed at one of the 6 state approved dispensaries referred to as Alternative Treatment Centers. Home grows, or even deliveries, are not permitted. This has caused some tension on both sides of the aisle with some advocating a change to allow delivery or personal cultivation and others continuing to fight the bill at its core and do away with it because of federal tensions. The New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services is the regulating body who is still sorting out the dispensing rules and costs along with collecting pre-registrations from doctors who would like to make recommendations for patients. It’s been a long battle and one of the most restrictive laws to date but New Jersey should see medical marijuana sometime this summer.
Once again federal and state law clash over this subject and for the moment the federal jurisdiction is edging out over 3,459 patient’s rights. Rights that should be protected under laws enacted and voted on by the people. Rhode Island is not unique in this fight as other New England states such as New Hampshire and Washington D.C. continue to face the same challenges. So the fight will go on until the will of people finally perseveres.