Gustin L. Reichbach is a justice of the State Supreme Court in Brooklyn
15 May 2012
The New York State Legislature is now debating a bill to recognize marijuana as an effective and legitimate medicinal substance and establish a lawful framework for its use. The Assembly has passed such bills before, but they went nowhere in the State Senate. This year I hope that the outcome will be different. Cancer is a nonpartisan disease, so ubiquitous that it’s impossible to imagine that there are legislators whose families have not also been touched by this scourge. (See also: New York judge with cancer makes case for marijuana)
President Barack Obama says he won't go after pot users in Colorado and Washington, two states that just legalized the drug for recreational use. But advocates argue the president said the same thing about medical marijuana - and yet U.S. attorneys continue to force the closure of dispensaries across the U.S. Welcome to the confusing and often conflicting policy on pot, where medical marijuana is legal in many states, but it is increasingly difficult to grow, distribute or sell it.
A proposed ballot initiative aimed for the November elections begs a key question looming over California's medical marijuana industry: Can stricter state regulation keep the federal government from shutting it down? Dispensaries, medical marijuana growers and a powerful union local are rallying behind an initiative that would regulate California's $1.5 billion pot trade.
One year after federal law enforcement officials began cracking down on California’s medical marijuana industry with a series of high-profile arrests around the state, they finally moved into Los Angeles last month, giving 71 dispensaries until Tuesday to shut down. At the same time, because of a well-organized push by a new coalition of medical marijuana supporters, the City Council last week repealed a ban on the dispensaries that it had passed only a couple of months earlier.
A referendum to repeal a ban on medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles appears to be headed for the ballot, with pot shop supporters saying that they have collected nearly twice the signatures required to force a citywide vote and key City Council members signaling that they won't try to stop it. Medical cannabis supporters plan to turn in the names of 50,000 voters who want the referendum included on the March ballot. If the signatures prove valid, officials will be required to temporarily suspend the ban, which was approved with much fanfare last month and was due to go into effect Sept. 6.
For the first time ever, a solid majority of Americans supports legalizing marijuana for recreational use: 56%, according to the most recent Rasmussen poll. Support for legalization has been growing steadily since the 1990s; in 1994, just 25% were in favor. Culturally, marijuana's become hardly more than a punchline. But in reality, U.S. marijuana policy is no joke; it causes great harm, both directly and indirectly. Here are the 10 most important reasons our marijuana laws deserve serious reconsideration.
A California school known as the "Princeton of Pot" has reopened after a federal raid, but with a bare-bones staff of volunteers to teach the art of cannabis cultivation, after the crackdown crimped its funding and forced it to lay off 25 paid employees. The raid earlier this month on Oaksterdam University, which offers courses on the growing and dispensing of marijuana, turned the Oakland-based school into the latest flashpoint between federal law enforcement and medical cannabis advocates in states where pot has been decriminalized for medicinal purposes.
Medical marijuana advocates are hoping state governments can succeed where their efforts have failed by asking federal authorities to reclassify pot as a drug with medical use. Recently, Colorado became the fourth state to ask the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to reclassify marijuana as a narcotic in the same league as heavyweight painkillers including oxycodone. The governors of Washington and Rhode Island filed a formal petition with the agency in November, and Vermont signed onto that request shortly afterward.
A medical marijuana trade group and 11 patients sued the city of Los Angeles, seeking to block enforcement of an ordinance that would shut down most of the city's storefront pot dispensaries in three weeks. The lawsuit, which says users are protected by California's 1996 legalization of medical marijuana and the U.S. Constitution, seeks an immediate injunction to keep Los Angeles officials from shuttering dispensaries starting on September 6.
Colorado's top federal prosecutor has ordered 25 medical marijuana shops located near schools to close in an escalating pot clampdown, as the state gears up for a battle at the ballot box over broader recreational use of the drug. Attorney John Walsh warned owners of the centers in letters that they have 45 days to shut down or "action will be taken to seize and forfeit their property," his office said.
Hundreds of demonstrators gathered at City Hall to demand federal respect for state and local marijuana laws, a day after federal agents raided the state's first pot trade school and a related dispensary across the bay in Oakland. The San Francisco rally and march to a nearby federal building was planned before Monday's raid. But the sweep on businesses owned by prominent marijuana activist Richard Lee emboldened protesters and brought denunciations from local officials and lawmakers in five states with medical cannabis laws.
A day after federal prosecutors moved to shutter the country's largest medical marijuana dispensary, city leaders and other officials came to the defense of Harborside Health Center, warning of dire economic and social consequences if Oakland's carefully regulated industry is quashed. "We cannot afford the money, we cannot afford the waste of law enforcement resources, and we cannot afford the loss of jobs that this would entail," City Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan said.
On October 16, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, the federal appeals court that usually handles cases involving government regulations, will hear oral arguments on Americans for Safe Access v. DEA. Specifically, Americans for Safe Access (ASA), a California-based patient-advocacy group, is trying to get the Drug Enforcement Administration to move marijuana out of Schedule I, the Controlled Substances Act of 1970s category for drugs with "a high potential for abuse," "no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States," and no "accepted level of safety for use under medical supervision."
When people go to the polls two weeks from now they won't just be voting for candidates, in some states, they'll be passing judgment on social issues. In Oregon, Washington and the Rocky Mountain state of Colorado it's the legalization of marijuana. Part of this has to do with cash-starved governments looking for new things to tax for more revenue. But much of it has to do with the growing acceptance or at least tolerance for a drug that was once considered the devil's weed and a flashpoint for cultural and generational warfare.
The medical marijuana drug Sativex, which could be approved in the United States in the coming years as a treatment for pain relief, has little potential for abuse, experts say. The British pharmaceutical company GW Pharmaceuticals is currently testing the drug, which is delivered as a mouth spray and called Sativex, in clinical trials. The company plans to seek U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for the drug as a treatment for cancer pain when the trials are completed.
In a primary election race for Oregon's top law enforcement post, the candidate who pledged to protect medical marijuana patients scored a decisive victory over a rival who led a cannabis crackdown last year. Retired judge Ellen Rosenblum, strongly backed by proponents of liberalized marijuana laws, captured 63 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary for state attorney general. Because no Republicans sought their party's nomination for attorney general, the Democratic primary victor, Rosenblum, becomes the presumptive winner in November's general election, making her the first woman to claim that office.
Medical marijuana advocates have a message for Democratic leaders and federal prosecutors with an eye on political office: Don't mess with pot. Pushing back against a federal effort to stem the proliferation of medical marijuana operations, one of the nation's largest drug policy groups claimed credit for the defeat of a former federal prosecutor who was the early favorite to win the Democratic primary for Oregon attorney general.
Many medical marijuana dispensaries have been making huge sums of money even as they claim to be nonprofit, according to court and law enforcement records, industry insiders, police and federal agents. The Los Angeles Times found a cash-infused retail world unlike the one pitched to voters who passed the Compassionate Use Act for "seriously ill Californians" in 1996.
For a brief moment in 2009, medical marijuana advocates exhaled. A new President had taken office promising to call off the federal prosecutors in states that had legalized weed for the sick. Medical marijuana patients and the growing industry thought they were in the clear. But they weren’t. Two years later, the Obama Administration is cracking down on medical marijuana dispensaries and growers just as harshly as George W. Bush did. In 2011, the Department of Justice revised its guidance to U.S. Attorneys, allowing them to target any medical marijuana activity except for ill patients and their immediate caregivers.
A medical marijuana advocate urged a federal appeals court to require the U.S. government to relax, or at least rethink, a more-than-40-year-old rule that treats marijuana as a highly dangerous drug with no medical value. Federal drug regulators "have failed to weigh the evidence" from a growing number of medical studies showing that marijuana is effective for relieving pain and nausea, said Joe Elford, counsel for Americans for Safe Access. (See also: Appeals Court hears case on medical value of marijuana)