Drug Law

We Need a New Federal Policy on Medical Cannabis

| by ASA

California Assembly to Vote on Joint Resolution

A bill sponsored by ASA that urges federal officials to adopt a new national policy ensuring safe access is now before the California Assembly. Following testimony by California Director Don Duncan last month, the Assembly's Committee on Health voted 10-3 to pass the non-binding resolution to the full Assembly.

"This legislation is needed now more than ever," said Duncan in his testimony to the committee. "Lest federal officials think their job is done, they need to know their work addressing medical marijuana as a public health issue has only just begun."

Originally introduced by State Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) in June 2009, Senate Joint Resolution 14 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." The full Senate passed the bill last August by a vote of 23-15.

"Patients and providers in California remain at risk of arrest and prosecution by federal law enforcement," said Senator Leno in a statement on the resolution. "And legally established medical marijuana cooperatives continue to be the subjects of federal raids and prosecutions."

The Department of Justice issued a memo to US Attorneys in October 2009, discouraging them from prosecuting individuals who comply with state medical cannabis laws. But raids, arrests and prosecutions have occurred since then in California, Colorado and New Mexico. More than two-dozen patients and providers are currently being prosecuted under federal law and face decades in prison.

In California, medical marijuana provider James Stacy, whose dispensary was raided by the DEA in September 2009, a month before the Justice Department policy was issued, is scheduled to go to trial next month.

"No one should go to federal prison for treating illness or injury with a safe, effective medicine," said Duncan. "Suffering patients across the country will benefit from a sensible, comprehensive federal medical cannabis policy."

In addition to urging President Obama and Congress to "move quickly to end federal raids, intimidation, and interference with state medical marijuana law," SJR 14 asks them 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."

Under federal rules of evidence, defendants facing federal marijuana charges cannot use their medical condition or compliance with state law as a defense in court. A bill to change that, the Truth in Trials Act (HR 3939), is currently pending before Congress.

If passed by the Assembly, the resolution will then be sent to President Obama, Vice President Biden, the Speaker of the House and each member of the California Congressional delegation.