Federal Medical Cannabis Raids Challenged by Legislators
The Obama Administration is facing tough questions about
its policy on medical cannabis after a series of raids
involving federal agents in Colorado, as well as California
and Hawaii. The raid⁞s in California and Hawaii have generated
considerable concern among patients and advocates, but
the ones in Colorado have drawn official rebuke.
Four Colorado state lawmakers and a member of the state's
Congressional delegation have asked that the raids be
stopped because they are interfering with the state's
ability to create effective regulations for controlling
access to medical cannabis. The state's second-largest
newspaper joined the lawmakers in publicly challenging
the DEA's actions there.
The DEA actions in Colorado began with raids on laboratories
in Denver and Colorado Springs that tested for THC levels
and contaminants, in accordance with state law. DEA agents
then raided home of a Colorado man who was growing cannabis
for patients and arrested him on charges that could mean
40 years in federal prison.
Following the raids, the DEA special agent in charge of
the Denver office, Jeffrey Sweetin, told the media that
the federal interventions would continue.
"It's still a violation of federal law," Sweetin
said. "It's not medicine. We're still going to continue
to investigate and arrest people."
the wake of the raids, freshman Congressman Jared Polis
met with Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske and also asked Attorney
General Eric Holder to investigate the DEA's actions in
light of the Obama Administration's stated policy on respecting
state medical cannabis laws. In February 2009, Holder
said the Justice Department would not arrest or prosecute
people for marijuana violations if they are following
state medical cannabis laws. A memo to that effect was
issued in October.
A bi-partisan group of four Colorado state lawmakers who
are crafting medical cannabis regulations also asked Holder
to halt the raids. In a formal letter sent to the Attorney
General, the legislators - Democratic Sen. Chris Romer
and Rep. Beth McCann of Denver and Republican Sen. Nancy
Spence of Centennial and Rep. Tom Massey of Poncha Springs
- said the raids are "complicating" their attempt
to craft new rules.
"These raids discourage dispensary operators, caregivers,
growers and patients from providing testimony or recommendations
to state lawmakers, hampering our ability to develop a
workable and realistic regulatory arrangement for medical
marijuana," they wrote.
The Gazette, a newspaper in the conservative city
of Colorado Springs, leveled a similar complaint, writing
in an editorial that federal agents "acted with disrespect
for the voters of Colorado to undermine our state's constitutional
right to buy, sell, produce and consume medical marijuana.
Their actions have undermined sincere efforts by state
and local politicians to achieve responsible medical marijuana
Nominee May Face Tough Questions about Medical Cannabis
Bush Holdover Orchestrated Intimidation Campaign
Medical cannabis patients and advocates have asked the
U.S. Senate to question carefully the Obama Administration's
nominee to head the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
The current Acting Administrator, Michele Leonhart, has
been tapped for the job, though she is a hold-over from
the Bush Administration, which made her Deputy Administrator
in 2004 and then Acting Administrator in 2008.
"Nominating a Bush appointee to continue as head
of a critical agency, even though she has been actively
undermining the Obama Administration's policy on medical
cannabis, does not look like change we can believe in,"
said ASA Government Affairs Director Caren Woodson. "We
can only hope that the confirmation process will reveal
she's had a change of heart, or that the Senate will demand
a nominee who respects the chain of command."
deputy administrator, Leonhart was part of the DEA management
team that attempted to undermine state medical cannabis
programs. Leonhart helped orchestrate more than 200 raids
targeting medical cannabis patients and caregivers, primarily
in California. Many of the raids employed "shock
and awe" tactics involving coordinated simultaneous
paramilitary assaults on multiple locations with heavily
Leonhart may have also played a role in a federal campaign
of intimidation aimed at property owners in California.
Hundreds of landlords throughout the state were sent official
letters threatening them with criminal prosecution and
civil asset forfeiture for renting commercial property
to patient collectives. The DEA's involvement in directing
banks to close the accounts of patient collectives is
also the subject of investigation by House Banking Committee
As acting administrator, Leonhart has ignored the ruling
of the DEA's own administrative law judge and singlehandedly
blocked research applications by university scientists.
As DEA administrator, Leonhart will be responsible for
responding to a longstanding petition to reschedule cannabis
in accordance with the scientific and medical consensus
about its medical utility and safety. Currently, cannabis
is classified as a Schedule I drug, meaning it has not
currently accepted medical use in the U.S. and is highly
dangerous, despite an overwhelming body of evidence to
Since the Department of Justice issued its memo stating
that federal resources should not be used to target individuals
in compliance with their state's medical cannabis laws,
Leonhart has directed continuing DEA raids in Colorado,
California and Hawaii. These raids have targeted not just
medical cannabis patients but even independent laboratories
tasked with ensuring that the medical cannabis being distributed
through state programs is unadulterated.
Congress has previously raised questions about Leonhart's
judgment in areas other than medical cannabis. She has
faced questions about her role in a botched attempt to
infiltrate the Juarez cartel that left 12 people dead
in El Paso. That case "had a terrible odor,"
according to Rep. Walter B. Jones (R, NC), one of those
who looked into it. A whistleblower within the DEA brought
to light actions under Leonhart's command that Rep. Jones
said constitute "conspiracy, corruption and cover-up."
Leonhart has also faced criticism for her use of an infamous
confidential informant, Andrew Chambers, who was paid
more than $2 million for his testimony in over 300 drug
cases, though one federal appeals court characterized
Chambers as a "total liar." Leonhart and other
officials violated DEA regulations by hiding records of
the informant's arrests and convictions from defense attorneys-a
history he routinely denied when testifying. Chambers
was finally "deactivated" from the DEA by order
of then-Attorney General Janet Reno after a federal judge
said that his serial perjury for the DEA was "very
compelling" evidence of government misconduct.
Leonhart's confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary
Committee, chaired by Sen. Patrick Leahy, has not yet
Medical Marijuana Law Enacted then Suspended
District Council Working on Regulations for Safe
medical cannabis initiative in Washington, D.C. passed
its mandatory 30-day Congressional review period last
month but was immediately suspended by the local District
Council so they can complete regulations for implementing
the new law.
Initiative 59, known as the Legalization of Marijuana
for Medical Treatment Initiative, was approved by 69%
of voters in 1998 but blocked by Congress from taking
effect then. That ban was lifted earlier this year.
"We're extremely pleased that Congress finally
decided to allow the District of Columbia's medical
marijuana law to take effect," said Nikolas Schiller
from the D.C. chapter of ASA."We're also anxious
to see the District Council quickly establish regulations
that will grant voter-approved rights to patients, which
have been denied for far too long."
local moratorium follows a hearing last month on proposed
amendments co-introduced by District Council Chairman
Vincent C. Gray (D) and Councilmembers David A. Catania
(I-At Large) and Phil Mendelson (D-At Large).
"The District Council needs to consider regulations
from the patient perspective," said ASA Executive
Director Steph Sherer, who is a DC resident. "Patients
are not served by only allowing primary care physicians
to recommend medical marijuana, limiting patients to
a single caregiver, relegating dispensaries to remote
areas, or jeopardizing sensitive patient information."
Once the Council adopts regulations, the law will undergo
a second 30-day Congressional review period, as required
under the Home Rule Act.
| STATE UPDATE
Jersey Becomes 14th Medical Marijuana State
Law Establishes State-Regulated Distribution Program
Jersey became the 14th state to establish protections
for patients who use cannabis on the advice of their
doctors. The "New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical
Marijuana Act" signed into law by Governor Jon
Corzine shields qualified patients from arrest and prosecution
for possession and transportation, and mandates distribution
of medical cannabis by state-regulated "Alternative
Treatment Centers." As the 11th most populous state
in the nation, New Jersey is the third largest state
to pass medical cannabis legislation, after California
"The passage of New Jersey's medical cannabis law
is a victory for commonsense health policies,"
said Caren Woodson, ASA's government affairs director.
"It's only a matter of time before the federal
government catches up."
The bill was passed by a 48-14 vote by the General Assembly
and a 25-13 vote by the State Senate after years of
lobbying by patients and advocates. New Jersey officials
must now develop regulations for administering the program
that will go into effect in six months. The law prohibits
patients from cultivating their own medicine, requiring
them to purchase their medicine from one of the six
distribution centers to be established by the state.
number of patients who will qualify for access through
the state-run program is unclear, since lawmakers intentionally
excluded the primary condition for which patients use
cannabis: chronic pain. Among the qualifying conditions
for which a doctor may recommend cannabis are cancer,
HIV/AIDS, Lou Gehrig's disease, muscular dystrophy and
Following the signing of his state's medical cannabis
bill, U.S. Representative Donald Payne (NJ-10) added
his name to the list of co-sponsors on the federal Truth
in Trials bill, which would allow medical cannabis patients
who face federal marijuana charges that they were acting
in compliance with state law. Currently, federal rules
of evidence prevent cannabis patients from using any
type of medical defense.
Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act:"
| STATE UPDATE
State Amends Medical Cannabis Law to Expand Access Washington
State has expanded its existing medical cannabis laws
to allow more health care professionals to legally recommend
therapeutic cannabis to their patients.
Governor Christine Gregoire has signed SB 5798, which
will allow patients in Washington to register with the
state's medical cannabis program on the advice of naturopathic
doctors, nurse practitioners and physicians' assistants.
The change makes Washington State the most expansive in
terms of the range of health professionals patients can
consult about cannabis under the law. The change in part
reflects the difficulties some patients face in finding
physicians who will sign the required state paperwork.
Many doctors continue to fear retribution because of old
threats from the federal government about suspending their
prescription privileges if they discuss cannabis with
their patients. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2003 barred
such retribution and affirmed First Amendment protections
for doctor-patient communication.
Washington lawmakers also amended their state medical
cannabis law to require all medical recommendations to
be printed on tamper-resistant paper to protect against
counterfeiting. The changes passed the House 58-39 and
the Senate 34-13.
| STATE UPDATE
Senate Debates Bill
Senate Judiciary Committee Passes Measure 7-4 The
Maryland Senate is debating a bill that would expand the
state's medical cannabis law, after the Senate Judiciary
Committee passed it by a margin of 7-4. The bill includes
provisions to protect patients from arrest and prosecution
and reclassify cannabis as a Schedule II drug with accepted
ASA advocates were among those who helped convince committee
members that they need to fix their state's medical cannabis
Maryland legislature recognizes patients should not be
treated like criminals," said Caren Woodson, ASA
Government Affairs Director and a Maryland resident. "We
are working to make sure they understand what it takes
to meet the real needs of patients."
The new bill would make the state's health department
responsible for a medical marijuana program that would
include licensing patients, caregivers, cultivators and
Maryland's current medical marijuana law reduces penalties
for patients who present evidence of medical use in court
to a $100 fine, but does not prevent them from being arrested,
prosecuted or convicted.
A vote on Senate Bill 627 is expected within a week. The
bill is a companion to House Bill 712, which was introduced
by House Delegate Dan Morhaim M.D. If the senate bill
passes, it will go to the House Rules Committee for consideration.
| STATE UPDATE
Pharmacy Board Recommends Rescheduling Cannabis, Studying
state of Iowa's governing body for medications has unanimously
said that cannabis has medical uses and established a
task force for creating a state medical cannabis program.
The state Pharmacy Board's decision to recommend the reclassification
of marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule II substance
makes Iowa the first state where medical professionals
have acted before voters or lawmakers have legalized medical
"Iowa's state medical officials have now formally
recognized what polls say a majority of Iowans understand-cannabis
has important medical uses," said ASA Government
Affairs Director Caren Woodson. "Now it's up to state
lawmakers to stop making criminals of patients who take
their doctor's advice."
The Pharmacy Board's recommendation on cannabis classification
goes to state lawmakers for action. The Board also established
a task force to study the steps necessary for creating
a medical cannabis program in Iowa. A February poll found
that 64% of Iowans support legal access to medical cannabis.
Medical cannabis legislation went before a state senate
subcommittee in 2009 but did not advance.
| STATE UPDATE
Cannabis Bills Pending in Many States
In addition to Maryland and Iowa, state lawmakers around
the country are considering measures to remove criminal
penalties for those who use cannabis as a medical treatment.
In Ohio, a bill to remove criminal penalties for
dispensing, growing and using cannabis for medical purposes
has been introduced in the state House with six co-sponsors.
The new bill is similar to an Ohio Senate Bill from the
last session. The bill's backers, including a former state
lawmaker who helped craft the current measure, say they
will take the issue directly to the state's voters via initiative
if it does not pass this year.
In Missouri, a bill to allow patients to use cannabis
medicinally has been introduced for the fourth year in a
row, this time with 17 bi-partisan co-sponsors in the state
House, including a Republican representative who is also
a physician. HB 1670 would reclassify marijuana as a Schedule
II drug in Missouri and allow registered patients and caregivers
to possess up to seven marijuana plants and three ounces
of usable marijuana, as well as establishing regulated non-profit
distribution centers for patients to access their medicine.
In Alabama, state lawmakers are again considering
a medical cannabis bill. HB 642, which would allow patients
with specified medical conditions to use marijuana, has
been approved by the House Judiciary Committee. Legislative
scheduling is such that the full house is unlikely to debate
the bill before their session ends, but the bill's sponsor
intends to introduce it again next year if that is the case.
Medical marijuana bills have been introduced in Alabama
each of the past three years but have not made it out of
committee. A 2004 poll found 75% support in the state for
legal access to cannabis under a doctor's supervision.
In Delaware, SB94 would establish a medical cannabis
program that would protect registered patients from arrest;
patients would be able to possess six ounces and cultivate
up to 12 plants.
In Illinois, SB 1381, the Compassionate Use of Medical
Cannabis Pilot Program Act, is awaiting action from the
House after passing the state Senate last May.
In Massachusetts, the House medical cannabis bill,
HB 2160, was sent out of committee for study; recent polling
in the state found 81% support for legal medical access.
In New York, twin bills in the Senate and Assembly
would allow patients legal access to cannabis through state-regulated
In Wisconsin, Assembly Bill 554 would make medical
use of cannabis legal. The bill must clear two committees
and a floor vote by the end of the session, April 22.
| RESEARCH UPDATE
Researchers Issue Report on State-Funded Studies A
series of 14 studies of medical marijuana funded by the
state of California has confirmed that the drug is uniquely
effective for relieving neuropathic pain and reducing
muscle spasms, among other conditions.
"This report further confirms the claims of ASA's
Data Quality Act petition," said ASA Government Affairs
Director Caren Woodson. "The law requires the federal
government to acknowledge the science and admit that marijuana
has medical uses."
The Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research issued a report
on the 10-year program as part of its mandate by the state
legislature, which established the center to fund and
coordinate research at campuses of the University of California.
Results of only five of the 14 studies have been published
to date, with a sixth completed but not yet published.
The remaining studies have not yet been completed.
Pain relief was the focus of many of the double-blind
placebo-controlled studies in the $8.7-million research
effort. Two showed that smoked cannabis was effective
for hard-to-treat pain in HIV patients. One demonstrated
that cannabis is effective for relieving neuropathic pain
related to spinal cord injuries and other conditions.
Another study found that higher doses of cannabis produced
more relief in subjects who had pain induced via chemical
The fifth study compared smoking cannabis to the use of
a vaporization device, which subjects found effective
and preferable to smoking.
The studies published to date appeared in the peer-reviewed
journals Neurology, Neuropsychopharmacology, Journal
of Pain, Anesthesiology, and Clinical Pharmacology
The sixth completed study, which has not been published,
found that smoked marijuana reduced spasticity and associated
pain for patients with multiple sclerosis.
Each of the studies completed to date confirms the findings
of other researchers and anecdotal reports by medical
The report is at www.cmcr.ucsd.edu.