Patients Are Relying on Congress to Reauthorize the Rohrabacher-Farr Medical Marijuana Amendment

Steph Sherer Become a fan

Executive Director, Americans for Safe Access

Today, the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to take part in a “marijuana vote-a-rama” of sorts, with several amendments to dealing with marijuana to be offered on the floor during the FY2016 Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Bill. The amendments offered will cover topics from hemp and cannabidiol (CBD) to protection of state adult-use laws. Not to be lost in the shuffle is the vote to reauthorize the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, which stipulates that the Department of Justice is not to spend any funds inferring with lawful state medical marijuana conduct. Patients, such as 15-year old Crohn’s patient/Colorado refugee Coltyn Turner, need the protection that a reauthorized Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment would continue to offer.

The amendment was originally passed the House in May 2014, 219-189, with a strong bipartisan showing of 49 Republicans joining 170 Democrats. Later in December, Senator Mikulski helped ensure the bill remained in the final CRomnibus bill that President Obama signed into law. While its passage marked the first time since Congress approved a medical marijuana reform since designating marijuana in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, momentum for additional medical marijuana reforms grown substantially in the past 12 months with introduction of the CARERS Act in both chambers and the passage of the Veterans Equal Access Amendment offered by Senators Daines (R-MT) and Merkley (D-OR) in Senate Appropriations Committee last month.

Once again the amendment showing strong bipartisan support out of the gate, with 6 Republican, and 6 Democrat cosponsors lending their name to this year’s version: Rohrabacher (R-CA), Farr (D-CA), Ribble (R-WI), Lee (D-CA), Massie (R-KY), Blumenauer (D-OR), Heck (R-NV), Cohen (D-TN), Young (R-AK) Polis (D-CO), McClintock (R-CA), Titus (D-NV). The number of states listed on the amendment has jumped from 32 to 39, with New York, North Carolina,Virginia, Georgia, Oklahoma, Texas, and Louisiana becoming the latest states to be added to the list. This now means that about 85% of the U.S. population now lives somewhere with some sort of medical marijuana patient protection. Patients like Coltyn cannot afford to wait for the federal government to play catch-up and be denied access to their medicine, and in fact, they won’t wait, as Coltyn has said ““I’d rather be illegally alive than legally dead.” With an estimated 2.4 million medical marijuana patients as of October 2014 who are being “illegally healed” in the eyes of the Department of Justice who makes no internal distinction between medical and non-medical marijuana use, the protections afforded by the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment are needed now more than ever.

During the floor debate last year, many of the amendment cosponsors spoke in favor of the amendment, thereby establishing the legislative intent of the amendment. From their words as well as the words of the amendment’s opponents, it was clear that the intent of the amendment was to prevent the Dept. of Justice from interfering with with state legal medical marijuana conduct. As Rep. Farr put it:

“This is essentially saying, look, if you are following State law, you are a legal resident doing your business under State law, the Feds just can’t come in and bust you and bust the doctors and bust the patient. It is more than half the States. So you don’t have to have any opinion about the value of marijuana. This doesn’t change any laws. This doesn’t affect one law, just lists the States that have already legalized it only for medical purposes, only medical purposes, and says, Federal Government, in those States, in those places, you can’t bust people. It seems to me a practical, reasonable amendment in this time and age.”

In practical terms, it is still hard to measure the true effectiveness of the amendment, but there has been an appreciable decrease in the amount of federal interference with state-legal medical marijuana conduct. This is not to say that DOJ is being in full compliance or is even being transparent about how it has been complying with the spending restriction. While DEA raids of state-legal facilities are no longer the regular occurrence they once were, raids and their subsequent prosecutions are still continuing, even in the absence of proof that state laws were being violated, such as the Kettle Falls Five case in Washington State. While Reps. Rohrabacher and Farr have sought answers from DOJ on why this kind of interference is continuing to take place, the Department has largely sidestepped the issue, offering a terse quasi-explanation in the L.A. Times, but little else. But as Rep. Farr responded in a tweet, “@TheJusticeDept lawyers can try to parse words but Congress was clear: Stop wasting funds/resources prosecuting patients!”

We couldn’t say it better ourselves, but it’s worth repeating, it is a waste of taxpayer funds to prosecute state-legal medical marijuana patients. To further reiterate Rep. Farr, passage of the amendment sends a strong signal to DOJ that interfering with lawful state medical marijuana conduct goes against the sense of Congress. This sense is shared by over 85% of Americans who believe that patients should have safe and legal access to medical marijuana programs under the recommendation of a physician. The health of patients like Coltyn depends on the federal government not interfering with state medical marijuana laws (his self-produced PSA underscores the reason why it’s important). Supporting this medical marijuana amendment is not only compassionate, but also fiscally pragmatic and politically safe. This vote should be a no-brainer for conservatives and liberals alike who want to keep big government out of the doctor’s office. Take action and ask your U.S. Representative to VOTE AYE on the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment.

Follow Steph Sherer on Twitter: www.twitter.com/safeaccess

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Rohrabacher Farr Medical Marijuana Amendment Americans for Safe Access Cjs CARERS Act Marijuana Marijuana Medical Marijuana Rohrabacher Farr Amendment Asa Safe Access Veterans Equal Access Amendment

Summary Of Oral Arguments In Federal Cannabis Rescheduling Case

 

 

Summary Of Oral Arguments In Federal Cannabis Rescheduling Case

http://www.theweedblog.com/summary-of-oral-arguments-in-federal-cannabis-rescheduling-case/

October 17, 2012

Federal Appeals Court Hears Case On Medical Value Of Marijuana

By Jonathan Bair, Americans for Safe Access

This morning, the federal Appeals Court for the DC Circuit heard an appeal in the case called Americans for Safe Access v Drug Enforcement Administration. The case is an appeal of the DEA’s rejection of a petition filed in 2002 seeking to change the placement of marijuana as a Schedule I drug per the Controlled Substances Act. Based on the scientific evidence, ASA and our fellow plaintiffs feel that it is simply untrue that cannabis is a drug with a “high potential for abuse” and “without accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.” The hearing today offered a glimpse at the Court’s approach to this topic.

In front of a packed courtroom in Washington, the three-judge panel questioned ASA’s Chief Counsel Joe Elford and a federal lawyer about the merits of the scientific case, and the crucial legal issue of “standing.” Standing is a legal concept that restricts the right to sue to injured parties – people who are directly hurt by what they are fighting, and can get relief from a legal judgement. The issue of standing has been the reason why two prior appeals of the DEA’s classification of marijuana were rejected. In the past, patients have not been part of lawsuits against the Controlled Substances Act. The three judges were Merrick Garland, Karen Henderson, and Harry Edwards.

ASA’s Chief Counsel Joe Elford opened his appeal by arguing that the federal “Department of Health and Human Services plays a game of gotcha” by tightly controlling research access to cannabis and then claiming that there is not enough compelling research to justify reconsidering it as Schedule I. The Drug Enforcement Administration erred by determing that cannabis has a high potential for abuse when its findings determine its abuse and harm potential is less than other substances in less-controlled schedules, such as cocaine.

Elford opened his arguments with the issue of standing. He pointed to the affidavit of plaintiff Michael Krawitz, a veteran denied access to Veterans Administration services because of his medically necessary use of marijuana. The Veterans Administrastion’s harmful policy is based on marijuana’s status as a Schedule I substance. He also spoke of the many members of Americans for Safe Access, who are fearful of the consequences of cultivating their own cannabis for their medical needs, and that a medical necessity defense in court could be allowed if marijuana were not in Schedule I.

Elford then turned to the issue of the merits of the DEA’s position on marijuana’s medical value, to prove their position was “arbitrary and capricious” and therefore impermissible. The contention that there is not a complete consensus was argued to be an unreasonable interpretation of the regulatory standard, and that many of HHS’s standards are inapplicable to an organic substance. Significantly, the lack of access to marijuana for medical research is a consequence of the scheduling, yet the lack of suitable research is cited by the DEA as a reason for maintaining the schedule. Despite this lack of research access, ASA cited a growing body of high-quality scientific and medical research into the benefits of marijuana.

Judge Garland asked Elford if he was arguing that marijuana in fact meets HHS’s standard for studies. ASA’s counsel cited over 200 studies and argued that a circular standard is impossible to meet. He also said that, given that the schedule is relative, the DEA is ignoring even its own studies showing that marijuana has merely a “mild” potential for abuse.

Joe Elford concluded by arguing that Schedule I was an inappropriate classification of marijuana and it caused harm to patients and prevented meaningful medical research. Rescheduling marijuana would allow for a reasonable policy solution for suffering patients and uphold the intent of the Controlled Substances Act.

Judge Edwards asked about the standing of Mr. Krawitz, and his access to medical marijuana. The judges asked about access in medical states and noted that marijuana would not be legal just because it were rescheduled.

Federal counsel Lena Watkins then presented her position against appealing the DEA’s decision to continue cannabis in Schedule I. She noted that state legislatures or popular votes do not determine accepted medical use. She said that research is inadequate and has not progressed, and argued that the government does provide access for research. Turning to the abuse potential, Watkins said, “marijuana is the most widely abused drug in America,” and dependency is a factor in making that assessment.

The judges questioned the level of access provided for research, and Watkins said that fifteen studies of a specific federal “quality” metric have been allowed. Pressed to explain why these studies haven’t persuaded the DEA that marijuana has medical benefits, she said, “we don’t have the final results yet.” To many in the audience, the circular nature of the government’s position on the science of marijuana was clear. The judges then invited Elford to give a rebuttal.

Focusing on rebutting the government’s claims about research, Elford argued that there has been adequate study and even more since this case was filed in 2002, and noted that he would like to admit additional evidence to the case. Summarizing by turning the government’s “no substantial evidence” argument on its head, Elford said that both sides agree more research needs to be done and that research can only happen if marijuana is released from Schedule I. Requiring the DEA to make scientific determinations on a new schedule would lead to better policy and more relief for suffering patients.

The patients spoke out at a well-attended press conference after the hearing, and Americans for Safe Access is proud to have given patients a day in court. Many observers felt the judges were willing to consider the argument of Michael Krawitz’s direct harm from the Controlled Substances Act, and this issue of “standing” has been the Achilles heel of past lawsuits against Schedule I. However, Judge Garland asked at one point, “Don’t we have to defer to the agency? We’re not scientists. They are.”

We’ll find out whether the judges felt the DEA’s science is adequate, or if patients can sue for a medical necessity defense against harsh marijuana laws, when the judges rule. We don’t expect it for a few months. This opportunity is thanks to the brave plaintiffs who took on the federal government on behalf of many others.

Jonathan Bair is ASA’s Social Media Director. Recordings of any kind were not allowed in the courtroom.

Source: Americans for Safe Access

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Medical marijuana backers ask judges for looser regulation

 

 

October 17, 2012

By BLOOMBERG NEWS

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The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration ignored research showing marijuana had legitimate medical uses when it rejected efforts to reclassify the drug as a less harmful substance last year, a lawyer for medical marijuana backers told a federal appeals court.

Joseph Elford, a lawyer for Americans for Safe Access, asked a three-judge panel in Washington today to order the DEA to reconsider its decision to keep marijuana a Schedule I narcotic, saying the agency’s ruling that there are no scientific studies finding an acceptable medical use was arbitrary and capricious.

“There are over 200 studies that are adequate and well-controlled studies,” Elford told the judges.


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The case involves an 10-year-old petition from medical marijuana advocates who asked the DEA to reclassify marijuana as a Schedule III, IV or V drug, which would allow for looser regulation. On June 21, 2011, the DEA rejected the request, stating that existing clinical evidence wasn’t adequate to warrant reclassification.

The judges questioned whether the medical marijuana patients and the advocacy group had the authority to challenge the DEA’s decision. U.S. Circuit Judge Merrick Garland said the court has limited authority to review it as long as the agency made a proper showing of support for it.

“I’m trying to figure out what our standard of review is,” Garland asked a lawyer for the Justice Department. “Is there evidence to support the administration’s position that there is no substantial evidence? That sounds funny.” Lena Watkins, a lawyer for the Justice Department, said the studies cited by the marijuana proponents were rejected because the research didn’t meet government standards. She said about 15 studies meet the standards, though the government doesn’t have the final results yet.

The case is Americans for Safe Access v. Drug Enforcement Administration, 11-1265, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (Washington).

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