DECADES in prison for medical weed

Home Sweet Home

It has been a long and sobering couple of weeks for the medical cannabis community, Justice has again failed and we see our brothers and sisters being put in prison for decades for providing safe and effective cannabis medicines to people authorized to use it from their physicians.

Let that sit with you. We are putting people in prison for DECADES for providing weed to sick people. Should I say it again? We have taken a human being and put him in a small cage with other dangerous criminals for ten plus years because he provided sick people with plant material that made them feel better. I do not know about you, but it makes my stomach turn really. It makes me sad to be an American, really.

This week Aaron Sandusky was convicted on two conspiracy charges and remanded to custody for a 10-year to life sentence for his role in operating a group of medical cannabis dispensing collectives in Southern California. In Michigan this week we say Gerald Duval Jr. and his son Jeremy Duval sentenced to ten years in prison for two medical cannabis greenhouse facilities that were being cultivated for patient use in accordance with state law there. In Montana late last month, Chris Williams was convicted of 8 felony counts for his role in Montana Cannabis, a legal provider of medical cannabis there. He also faces decades in prison for his “crimes.” And this is just in the past two weeks.

We have been quietly, and sometimes not so quietly, been sending medical cannabis cultivators, providers, and patients to prison for DECADES and ruining people’s lives for not just weed, but doctor authorized weed. It is an incredible injustice and we should be outraged. Often our community tries to read the tea leaves and say, “Well, this person was busted for this reason, and it will never happen to me.” That is bullshit, and you should know better. We are all in the same boat and face the same risks.

If I made my living providing medical cannabis I would begin to seriously looking at donating my resources towards ending cannabis prohibition, and fast. You could be the next person to face the injustice of doing the right thing and facing a jury that is not even allowed to take into consideration the medical aspects of your defense. In Federal court you have no defense. Did you grow weed? Yes. Go to prison for a decade. WTF? But that is where we are at. This is happening all over. What are you going to do about it?

The list is long of good people who are sitting in prison on mandatory minimum sentences and decades of time for providing weed to sick people. We are allowing our government to run rampant and take the lives of good people for weed. Bryan Epis (10 years), Eddy Lepp (10 years), Luke Scarmazzo (22 years), Richard Montes (20 years), Dustin DC Costa (16 years), Timothy Dellas (10 years), Doctor Mollie Fry and her husband attorney Dale Schafer (5 year mandatory for very few plants over years), and there are dozens of others doing 3, 5, 6, 7 years sentences also. It is alarming.

These are not the “bad operators.” These are not bad guys who just got caught with their hand in the cookie jar. These are all people who believed, like many of us, that if we do the right thing then justice would protect us. We are all very vulnerable to Federal enforcement. None of us are better than the others in the eyes of the US Justice Department. We are all a bunch of criminal weedheads to them. It is a sad reality that we all must take a hard look at.

Times are changing and there is a louder and more robust call for cannabis freedom every day. This is great; but it is not very comforting for the folks waking up away from their loved ones with nothing but time staring them in the face.

We have got to make a better effort. We have got to make more clear and focused campaigns aimed directly at the evils of imprisoning people for a safe, enjoyable, and helpful plant. We have got to begin to move mountains and free our brothers and sisters from the clutches of tyranny. We must get our shit together and take this fight to the heart of the beast, which is combatting the mass incarceration of our neighbors and citizens for weed. It has got to end and it has got to end now. It is no longer okay to sit idly by while good people lose their freedom and standing in the community because of weed.

This is not working…

Oakland Sues Feds. What happens now?

In a move to stop the Feds from shutting down Harborside Health Center, the City of Oakland filed a lawsuit against the Feds in an effort to get them to “restrain and declare unlawful” a forfeiture case put forth by the Feds against Harborside’s landlord.

Here is an excerpt from the New York Times piece that ran today:

“This lawsuit is about protecting the rights of legitimate medical patients,” City Attorney Barbara Parker said in a statement on Wednesday, when the suit was filed. “I am deeply dismayed that the federal government would seek to deny these rights and deprive thousands of seriously ill Californians of access to safe, affordable and effective medicine.”

The civil lawsuit, which the City Council approved, seeks to “restrain and declare unlawful” the forfeiture proceedings against the landlords of the dispensary, Harborside Health Center, stating that Oakland will “suffer irreparable harm if the dispensaries are shuttered.”

“It is heartening to see the city stand up and support us,” said Steve DeAngelo, Harborside’s executive director. At its Oakland location, the nonprofit dispensary employs 100 people and serves some 112,000 more, seeing 600 to 800 customers a day. Last year, the group paid $3.5 million in taxes, including $1.1 million to the city.

It is great to see the City stand up for the rights of the medical cannabis community. It is not clear where they believe their legal standing will overcome the usual “If a City makes embezzlement legal that does not mean the Feds cannot enforce embezzlement laws” argument that is normally put forth, but it will be interesting to see how this one plays out.

One of the issues that may arise though is that the Feds decide to use their power in retaliation to the lawsuit. Recall, in Montana, on the same day the Senate Committee was to vote on repealing the state’s medical marijuana regulations the Feds raided a dozen facilities there in a show of force; so it is not unheard of for these folks to conveniently use their rights to enforce Federal law in an effort to make a statement.

Where does this agressive action by the City leave the other three dispensaries that operate in the City, as well as the four other applicants who are in the process of trying to open facilities there? Could this lawsuit pose risk to the existing folks and hamper the efforts of the folks coming on?

Here is a quote from City Attorney Barbara J. Parker from an LA Times piece:

If federal prosecutors succeed in shuttering Harborside, she said, “public safety could be worsened because those patients would be out in the black market purchasing this medicine from criminals.”

Now that is not an entirely true statement. As mentioned, there are other access points in the City; but she is right in asserting that a very large and professional organization that serves tens of thousands of patients a month would be lost, and those patients would be displaced. That would be terrible for the community. But what if this action resulted in a more sweeping action to flex their muscles to the City and all of the dispensaries in Oakland are shut down as a result? Then you will see patients even more so displaced.

I am not sure what the answer is, and only time will really tell. I have long called for cities and counties to step up and defend their medical cannabis business and patient communities. My ideas were more resolution and political alliance based efforts, but a lawsuit is a much bolder and striking move. It is also more risky.

Do not forget that El Camino Wellness in Sacramento, who sued the Feds was raided, and Marin Alliance who sued the Feds in the Northern District also remains closed, so the Feds do have a history of seemingly vindictive enforcement practices. Since this is an action taken by an entire City, could the City of Oakland then become the target of enforcement? It is possible.

But it is also possible that they make a great case and blow the doors off of this thing. I know Oakland’s legal department has had their fair share of issues, including Occupy protest issues and with their plans to license four industrial size cultivation facilities; but if their case holds water it could be the first step in backing the Feds up. It seems like a longshot on the surface, but I would hope that they have a better legal argument than those who have come and failed before them.

The reality is that cannabis prohibition is evil, so regardless of what happens I am still proud of Oakland for stepping up and putting their name on the line. I was reminded that this is somewhat similar to the WAMM lawsuit where the City and/or County joined on as co-plaintiffs. While that lawsuit ended in a sort of stalemate, there were no agressive actions brought against the City or County. I hope that bodes well for Oakland. that was a different time, with different folks, and a much less focused media blitz.

I am pulling for Oakland and Harborside. I am praying Uncle Sam keeps his wits about him and does not decide to do something stupid to show us all who is the boss. I hate it when they do that.

Is rescheduling the answer we are looking for?

According to Americans for Safe Access Chief Counsel, Joe Elford, “medical marijuana patients will finally get their day in court.” The group will present to the US Court of Appeal scientific evidence proving beyond a reasonable doubt that cannabis does indeed have medical value.

As with any court case and legal decision there is bound to be a winner and a loser. If the government wins (again) then the court will decide that cannabis has no medical value. That seems like a far stretch to make, but we have not made it through decades of disastrous prohibition without lies and misinformation, so I would not be a complete surprise. But the other option, the court deciding to reschedule cannabis as a medicine, could be a more interesting dilema for the weed community.

Here is an article from the Wall Street Journal on the court case:

Appeals Court to Consider Benefits of Medical Marijuana

By Sam Favate

Source: http://blogs.wsj.com/law/2012/10/08/appeals-court-to-consider-theraputic-value-of-medical-marijuana/

For the first time in 20 years, a federal court will review scientific evidence on the therapeutic value of marijuana, as a legal challenge by a group of doctors, medical professionals and patients makes its way to the U.S. court of appeals in Washington, D.C., next week.

Americans for Safe Access is hoping the challenge will change the government’s classification of marijuana from a dangerous drug with no medical benefits, the Guardian reported. Other groups, such as the American Medical Association, the American College of Physicians, the American Nurses Association, the Federation of American Scientists and the American Academy of Family Physicians support either medical access to marijuana or its reclassification to one that has a medical benefit.

“Medical marijuana patients are finally getting their day in court,” Joe Elford, chief counsel for ASA, told the Guardian. “This is a rare opportunity for patients to confront politically motivated decision-making with scientific evidence of marijuana’s medical efficacy.”

Last year, the Drug Enforcement Agency rejected the ASA’s petition to reschedule marijuana, saying there wasn’t substantial evidence the drug should be removed from schedule 1. The DEA cited a five-year-old assessment from the Department of Health and Human Services that said there was no consensus in the medical community on the medical applications of marijuana.

In its reply brief, the ASA says the criteria used by the DEA and HHS to determine scheduling are flawed.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit will hear arguments in the case on Oct. 16.

So the question I ask now is the same question I have been asking for many moons, “If we win, then what is next?”

Does anyone believe that if cannabis is rescheduled to the equivalent of Vicodin (Schedule 3), or Marinol aka Dronabinol (Schedule 3), or even schedule 4 or 5, that patients will be able to grow a garden of cannabis to use as a medicine? Does anyone believe that the current means of access that we have in limited states would continue with little to no changes in the system? Do we believe that after cannabis is turned over to the “bringing a new drug to market” folks that a.) raw cannabis will be an option; b.) that smoked cannabis will be an option; and/or c.) that anyone but a heavily licensed corporation with the money to jump through the hoops of government regulation will be able to produce and provide cannabis for medical use?

Those are all very fair questions. Of course it is necessary to reschedule cannabis as a medicine, and maybe, if cannabis is rescheduled, taken out of the hands of the people, and the current quasi-legal systems in limited states are shut down in favor of pharmaceutical weed, the cannabis community can begin to focus more on ending the mass incarceration of our neighbors for weed, and focus our fight on ending prohibition for adult use once and for all. Maybe if our hand is forced to quit pretending everyone is sick to grow weed because the only way to get medical weed might be from an approved government overseen resource, people will get back to the basis of this battle for cannabis freedom….freedom.

Medicalization is not real freedom. It is actually the second most strict form of prohibition. Think about it.

So while I see many in the community rejoicing this opportunity to bring cannabis to the scheduled drug table, I just do not see what all of the excitement is about. To me, I think watching the industry that has developed for patients and providers evolve into a shell of itself overrun by big business is very sad. I think rescheduling without adult use legalization leaves us MUCH more vulnerable than we are right now. While it will allow for patients in areas with no access to possibly have access to some form of non-smoked cannabis medicine, likely extracted in some form,  it may also be a sea change for the hundreds of thousands of patients who now do have safe and convenient access to a variety of whole plant and smokeable medicines.

So what is the answer? The answer is adult use legalization. It always has been. We have focused a lot of time, energy and resources pushing for rescheduling to justify the medicalization of cannabis, and somewhere in that battle we have forgot that rescheduling does not really do much to solve the actual problem of taking people to jail for weed. In fact, it could increase substantially the people going to jail for weed, as the companies that invest an average of $1.3 billion to bring a new drug to market will likely demand stricter control on the ground to protect their market share. If any person or group is truly for patients having more access to less expensive cannabis, then legalization is a no brainer. If people who continually preach about the safety and efficacy of cannabis really believe that we need a whole new pharmaceutical system in pace to assure cannabis is safe, then I am not sure we are talking about the same plant.

But maybe I am wrong. Maybe cannabis will be rescheduled and the government will concede that people should be allowed to grow their own, purchase it from a locally run dispensary or collective, and that everyone should blast a fat dab. Who knows? What I do know is that I am no nearly as excited as some who are out taking the usual premature victory lap.

CBD: Myth or Miracle?

The real answer is NEITHER.

The “high-CBD” craze is alive and kicking and it is worth examining the real value of CBDs, both as a medicine and as a marketing tool.

CBD is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid in weed that is thought to help with certain afflictions, such as convulsion and inflammation. It is thought to interact with the CB2 receptors in the body vs. the brain. Here is how it is explained by the folks at Project CBD:

Cannabidiol —CBD— is a compound in Cannabis that has medical effects but does not make people feel “stoned” and actually counters some of the effects of THC. After decades in which only high-THC Cannabis was available, CBD-rich strains are now being grown by and for medical users.

The reduced psychoactivity of CBD-rich Cannabis may make it an appealing treatment option for patients seeking anti-inflammatory, anti-pain, anti-anxiety and/or anti-spasm effects without disconcerting euphoria or lethargy.

So you can kind of see how it is being sold….”We smoke weed that doesn’t really get you high because we are real medical patients;” and therein lies the rub. Where is that line drawn between real medical relief and this movements desire to be accepted so much that we begin to breed low-thc strains just to prove we are legit? Is there really such a huge inflammation problem that we must focus so much time and energy on these “CBD-rich” strains?

Maybe and maybe not. Our movement has a tendency to overplay our hand and exploit loose theory as hard fact; and will stop at nothing to capitalize off of any little phenomenon. I have seen more gimmicks become commonplace in this industry than I care to review, such as the overuse of the term “organic,” or the phase where every strain was “kush” something. Purple weed has come, gone, and come back again. The nomenclature seems to shift with the wind, as well. Here in Cali, we have gone from cannabis clubs, to dispensaries, to patient member closed-loop collectives and may find our way back to dispensary again before it is all over.

The point is that I have watched our movement evolve over many years and have seen organizations overplay certain things to the point of irrelevance. Does CBD have some medical value? Sure it does. Is it the miracle substance that everyone is making it out to be? That is tricky.

No one knows for sure how CBD works, either on its own or in conjunction with other cannabinoids. It is a great marketing tool for some, and also a great justification for our opposition. I mean, we must be legitimate medical providers if we are selling weed with low THC, right? Maybe. I am not sure if that argument has really gained any traction or changed any minds in the halls of justice.

What I do know is that this CBD-rich culture is encouraging the breeding of low-THC strains in an effort to find the mysterious and elusive CBD. I know that to me, most CBD-rich medicine is hay and not enjoyable to me personally. Now I have plenty of medical issues. My rebuilt right knee has plenty of inflammation at the end of a long day, yet I still do not feel better after smoking CBD-rich meds over a high-THC strain. To each their own, and I am sure we are all different in our physical make-up; but the question is still valid…”Is there too much focus on high-CBDs?”

I think there is. I think if we did some real soul searching we may agree that MOST people use cannabis for the euphoric properties. I think that most cannabis users enjoy the buzz they get from good weed. I have asked a bunch of activist the question, “If weed did not get you high would you smoke it?” 99.9% have said “No.” Furthermore, would you risk a decade in prison to grow weed that did not get you high? I guess if you are getting four racks a pound for it you might, but if it was just for you? Would you risk prison to grow weed that did not get you high?

I will make a bet to anyone that 5-years from now, when weed is legal for adult enjoyable use. NOBODY will be talking about CBD-rich weed.

Now I am not saying CBD has no value by any means. I just think. like most things in this industry, we make more of things than they actually are in an effort to gain position or income. One might even say the entire “medical cannabis” deal is being overplayed, and that real patients are suffering because they are being lumped in with the quasi-recreational culture that has taken over the medical industry, leaving many mainstream physicians unwilling to participate. But that may be a conversation for another day.

As for me, I would strongly encourage you to not get up in this craze and to continue to grow weed with THC in it….Most of us still love THC.