Attorney General Guidelines Signal Victory for California Campaign
The publication of California Attorney General Jerry Brown's guidelines for medical cannabis patients, providers, and police is the successful culmination of three years of strategic work for the California Campaign of Americans for Safe Access (ASA) and signals a turning point for medical cannabis patients in the state. The top law enforcement official in the state, along with statewide police associations, now joins the state legislature and courts in a ringing endorsement of California's medical cannabis laws. Our work has crossed a milestone, and more than 200,000 patients are safer for it today!
The effort by ASA to urge action by the Attorney General's office began when Bill Lockyer was in office. Attorney General Lockyer was instrumental in directing law enforcement to uphold state law after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Gonzales v. Raich. However, Lockyer never issued a full set of guidelines for law enforcement, which have been desperately needed to stem the needless and harmful harassment of patients. Even Attorney General Brown was originally reluctant to issue guidelines. That is, until ASA won an important landmark case in Garden Grove v. Superior Court (Felix Kha) in November 2007.
The Garden Grove ruling, which was opposed by all of the statewide law enforcement agencies, stated in no uncertain terms that federal law does not preempt state law, and that police are obligated to uphold state and not federal law. This victory by patients paved the way for law enforcement to seek guidelines from the top law enforcement officer in the state. At that point, patients, their advocates and the police were all asking for the same thing: comprehensive guidelines from the Attorney General.
When the Attorney General's office contacted ASA for input, we heartily complied. All of the ASA staffers stepped up to offer their expertise, with Chief Counsel Joe Elford and Media Specialist Kris Hermes specifically logging hours of extensive conversations with lawyers from the Attorney General's office. Much of ASA's input was based on a previous request by Attorney General Brown regarding the legality of medical cannabis dispensaries, or dispensing collectives. It is a testament to the credibility we have built and the integrity of our campaign that the Attorney General turned to ASA multiple times when help was needed. ASA's input in drafting the guidelines has helped set the stage for full implementation of California law. ASA members can be proud of the work we have done together to get this far.
ASA launched the California Campaign for Safe Access in 2005 to address challenges still facing medical cannabis patients and caregivers years after voters approved Proposition 215 and the Legislature adopted SB 420. Based on what we heard from constituents across the state, we set out with three goals: (1) expand safe access across California, (2) assist in the passage of sensible city and county regulations, and (3) end the culture of law enforcement resistance to implementation of state and local medical cannabis law. The Attorney General's guidelines are a checkered flag for this phase of the campaign, tying loose ends that have obstructed successful implementation until now.
It is readily apparent that the last three years have seen a tremendous expansion of safe access throughout California, especially in the more conservative rural and Southern portions of the state. Who ever thought we would see more than 200 collectives providing medicine in Los Angeles County? This expansion in safe access followed important court victories, effective media work, and a lot of behind-the-scenes education and organizing among medical cannabis providers. ASA worked hard to support the expansion of safe access, seeding local self-regulating alliances of collectives, providing legal training for staff, and organizing emergency response to DEA raids all over California.
Our staff and volunteers have helped to adopt dozens of medial cannabis ordinances in cities and counties statewide. These local ordinances protect patients and communities, but they also serve to legitimize collectives and cooperatives as legal, regulated, and tax-paying organizations. In 2006, ASA sent copies of our report "Medical Cannabis Dispensing Collectives and Local Regulation" to City Councils and County Boards of Supervisors statewide. Then, we mobilized an army of local advocates with booklets, talking points, and skills trainings to go out and change the law in their communities. This campaign was successful in turning the tide of indifference and fear in communities. In fact, ASA recently persuaded elected officials in Malibu and Orange County to reject bans on patients' groups in favor of sensible regulations.
Ending law enforcement resistance has been our biggest challenge. Local ordinances often take police pressure off collectives, but patients continue to face harassment from law enforcement that continue to ignore state and local law. Through our toll free legal support line, we have managed to assist thousands of patients and attorneys who are the victims of law enforcement abuse, and we have observed that law enforcement encounters involving patients who possess small amounts of medical marijuana and plants have decreased across the state, with the exception of a several holdout regions. We have helped get countless criminal cases dismissed and get medicine rightfully back in the hands of patients! We have also managed to identify key plaintiffs for lawsuits like our 2005 victory over the California Highway Patrol or our landmark win against the City of Garden Grove in 2007 - both of which upheld patients rights despite federal law.
Last year, ASA convened a statewide conference entitled "Implementation = Victory" in Burbank, near the epicenter of the largest expansion of safe access in California medical cannabis history. The core message of the conference was that we could achieve victory in our California campaign by fully implementing Proposition 215 and SB 420 in our cities, counties, and state. Despite federal interference and intimidation, local implementation seemed to protect patients and ensure safe access in communities across California.
The Attorney General's guidelines signal a victory in the recognition and protection of more than 300 medical cannabis collectives and cooperatives that serve more than 200,000 patients statewide. The new guidelines not only clearly establish the rights and responsibilities of qualified patients, but also recognize collectives and cooperatives as legal entities, and give law enforcement further guidance in complying with the law.
There may be debate around the guidelines and how they should be used, and not every medical cannabis patient and advocate will be happy with the details, but I hope most will recognize this as a quantum leap forward. The next phase of our campaign will focus on legislation and litigation that serves to protect and expand patients' rights - especially in the context of the new guidelines. Legislative efforts like Assemblymember Mark Leno's ASA sponsored bill to prevent employment discrimination against patients point the way, As does impact litigation around ID cards, housing, and child custody.
Federal pressure remains a major obstacle in California. We still have much to do to stop DEA interference and intimidation in California. The last two years have seen unprecedented raids, indictments, and intimidation tactics. One of the refrains we have heard so often from our allies in Washington, DC, is "Where is the California AG on this?" Now we know. Direction from the top law enforcement officer of the nation's most populous state will have an impact in Washington, DC. Now, ASA Government Affairs Director Caren Woodson and Executive Director Steph Sherer have a powerful new tool at their disposal in their full-time work to change federal law.
This summer, ASA staff will be traveling across California to educate patients, collectives and cooperatives, and elected officials about the Attorney General's guidelines on medical cannabis. We intend to drive home the point that medical cannabis is here to stay in California - and key officials now have a rulebook to follow.
Read our report on What the AG Guidelines Mean for Collectives and Cooperatives. Also check for implementation seminars in your area soon.