Drug Law

CA Senate Urges New Federal Policy on Medical Marijuana

| by ASA

The California Senate voted 23-15 Monday on a resolution that urges the federal government to end medical marijuana raids and to "create a comprehensive federal medical marijuana policy that ensures safe and legal access to any patient that would benefit from it." Recent federal enforcement activity underscores the need for Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) 14, introduced in June by State Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco). Although President Obama has signaled a willingness to change federal policy on medical marijuana, his Administration has yet to come forward with an actual implementation plan.

In a previous statement, Senator Leno stated that, "Patients and providers in California remain at risk of arrest and prosecution by federal law enforcement and legally established medical marijuana cooperatives continue to be the subjects of federal raids." Once passed, "this resolution will clearly state the Legislature's opposition to federal interference with California's medical marijuana law and support for expanded federal reform and medical research," continued Leno.

In the last two weeks, federal agents conducted multiple raids on medical marijuana providers in both California and Colorado. On August 12, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Internal Revenue Service, and local police carried out a paramilitary-style raid on a medical marijuana provider in Los Angeles. The government claimed that the raided facility had failed to submit state sales tax revenues despite a lack of corroboration by the California Board of Equalization. Then, on August 14, during an investigation on an unrelated matter, FBI agents raided a medical marijuana provider in Denver, Colorado, causing the facility to shut down. Most recently, on August 18, five people were arrested in Upper Lake, California on federal charges after DEA agents seized 154 plants from what defendants claim was a medical marijuana cultivation site. The search warrant in the Upper Lake raid has been indefinitely sealed, preventing any scrutiny of the government's actions.

These and at least a half-dozen other actions that have occurred since President Obama took office seem to contradict repeated statements made by the Obama Administration about a new federal policy with regard to medical marijuana. "Not only do we need an end to these harmful federal raids and unnecessary interference in state medical marijuana laws," said Don Duncan, California Director with Americans for Safe Access, the nationwide medical marijuana advocacy group and sponsor of SJR 14. "The entire country would benefit from a sensible, comprehensive medical marijuana policy."

SJR 14 urges President Obama and Congress to "move quickly to end federal raids, intimidation, and interference with state medical marijuana law." But, it goes further by asking the government to establish "an affirmative defense to medical marijuana charges in federal court and establish federal legal protection for individuals authorized by state and local law..." Because of the 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Gonzales v. Raich, federal medical marijuana defendants are prevented from using a medical or state law defense. "With more than two dozen of these defendants currently being prosecuted by the Justice Department, each of them facing many years in prison, such a change to Justice Department policy would be timely, relevant and critically important," continued Duncan.

The resolution also addresses the need to expand research into the medical benefits of marijuana, a recommendation of the White House-commissioned Institute of Medicine report from 1999. Currently, a federal monopoly on the cultivation of marijuana for research purposes has stifled the ability to conduct FDA-approved scientific studies. To address this, the resolution urges the President and Congress "to adopt policies and laws to encourage advanced clinical research trials into the therapeutic use of marijuana." SJR 14 now proceeds to the California Assembly, and if passed the non-binding resolution will become law without needing the approval of Governor Schwarzenegger.