"The situation in the States about therapeutic marijuana"


It is an honour to be here representing California, an occupied territory of the US of America, which has recently decided to launch a war against our medical marijuana users patients.
This war has now entered a really critical, desperate and extreme stage that is bringing the issue to crises.
A crises which I hope will be resolved in a favourable way in the future but which at present represents a really the main battle front of the war on drug in the US.
I will bring you an update on that but first I will give a background on exactly what the legal situation is with regards to medical marijuana.
Medical marijuana has been recognised under state law in the US beginning in California since 1996 when the voters approved measure called proposition 2-15 to allow medical use of marijuana.
Now there are eight states that have similar laws.
The basic law says that patients have a right to possess and cultivate marijuana for their personal medical use, providing they have a doctor recommendation as a proof to do so.
It is not however actually establish anykind of legalised regulated distribution system.
Instead, the initiative calls on the state and federal governments please do that.
Measures that I take now seem to be a little bit naives for what actually happen.
In the past 6 years the federal government has done absolutely nothing to try to implement the law voters have at this regard, instead it has launch a war as I will describe.
Ranking a system of pharmaceutical distribution, what has emerged is that there has been a sort of an informal network of patients groups trying to provide medical cannabis to the people who needed it because our patients are allowed to grow their own. The majority actually finds difficult to do it and must rely on some other suppliers.
So there are many patients groups that do this; some of them are just informal collection patients who help eachother, others are clubs so called "cannabis party clubs" where people can go in like in a coffee house in Amsterdam, if they have doctor's recommendation they can buy the cannabis there. Some of these are more like clinics, some are delivery services.
Presently, there are at least 50 of such groups in California which probably 25 are really actively supplying cannabis to patients.
Most of them, I should say, are concentrated in particular areas in the Northen California, lots in San Francisco Bay area where I am from, which has been more tolerant about this because these clubs are technically not entirely legal under state law.
In the San Francisco area and in Northern California there is quite a big tolerance and open co-operation. Some of these clubs has been working close with the local police and city governments for sometime for establishing an identification card system to protect patients from arrest and to help these clubs identifying who are a legal patient and who is not.
On state level this law has been remarkably successful.
Recently we had state primary court decision just this summer which really gave the formal imprimatur to understate that under California law patients have the same right to marijuana medicine as any other prescription drug that is legally prescribed by a doctor.
We have also seen widespread and growing use of medical marijuana.
Since the passage of the Californian law and a world-wide revival of interest, in California itself has just been made a survey of usage and found about 30 to 40 thousand legal medical cannabis patients in California and probably another 5.000 in the other states that have legalised medical cannabis.
When you look out this is not a huge percentage of the population: it represents 1/10 of the population or maybe just 1% of the actual cannabis users in California.
I should say however that there are a lot of variations from region to region and in places where cannabis is more widely tolerated the level of usage for medical marijuana has been highest 1% of the general population in medical cannabis users in at least in one of the country in northern California and we have seen pools in Canada showing that illegal medical marijuana usage by the general population is of 4%. This is still a small minority.
When we first passed this initiative, our opponents said that it was a very dangerous proposition that was sending a warning message to kids. What we have actually seen is that it ends to be a false fear. A state survey of drug use by students in high schools and junior high schools has shown in fact that since passage of proposition 2-15 there has been any short of decline in use of marijuana by high school students. In fact that usage in general by students in California is anything lower that national average.
The picture shows that marijuana has declamarize marijuana in general. Nonetheless, it has come to growing use in medicine. There are a lot of different uses of their campaign coming from locations, a lot of people use it for various kinds of drug problems. People who are addicted opium have been prescribed opium for chronic pain or using marijuana instead of harm reduction substitute.
And this is going to be accepted among doctors: there are thousands of doctors recommending marijuana legally. In the state of Oregon we have figured that there are 5% of registered position that have recommended marijuana for medicine.
So we are arguing in fact that marijuana now has a no longer fitted definition of a scheduled drug that has no acceptable medical use. Legal rescheduled petitions argue that on the contrary it is going acceptance there is a medical use of marijuana and it should be rescheduled.
We are certain that this line of business is not going to be swollen by our government instead the DDA has taken the position that it is totally unproven that marijuana is a medicine and that we have to have extensive FDA studies to prove that it really is safe and effective.
The government has shown a bad faith in this and adopts a way to obstruct the useful research of medical cannabis.
To give you an example, we have a problem in the US even in doing research in medical cannabis because no one supplier of the marijuana. Marijuana is under the control of the National Institute of drug abuse that does not like its marijuana to be used for medical studies in general and it has been very obstructive to preventing people for even doing researches with it.
So, we have tried to establish alternatives supplies of medical marijuana that can be used in subject and a friend of mine made the multidisciplinary association for studies has instituted a proposal throw the University of Massachusetts to establish a research fund of medical cannabis in Massachusetts sending an application to DDA.
The DDA has come back and said that it was not possible to do that under the international treaty. But as we see, the international treaty on cannabis are treaties on opium and under article 23 of the treaty it is said that it has to be a national agency to control everything. Marijuana and opium have to be brought over to this national agency. Therefore we can not even have a private distributor of producers of medical marijuana in the US.
This is a misreading of the treaty, there are clear exceptions for medical use and in fact if you look at the treaty itself it says that propose to ensure adequate availability of drugs to medical scientific purposes
This is really ironic coming from an administration that really has a very good regard for the national treaty as first point. For kind of resistance that has been encountered here which poses to the current crises. What we have is a disconnect between the public sentiment and the US government.
Public sentiment is strongly on the side of medical marijuana. Pools in the US throughout the country consistently shows over 17% supports medical use of marijuana. If you have a look at the US Congress you can find 10% the Congress that is willing to support a proposed legislation to make medical cannabis legal.
Basically, what we state here is that there is a drug enforcement complex state has credibility on this issue and invest a lot of credibility over the last century in a notion that it alone is able to make decision on medical use of drugs in general and they are fighting to the definition of this.
Hence they have launched a war against medical marijuana in all forms and in particular have been fighting to take on our cannabis clubs in California for supplying patients with this medicine.
This crackdown actually began rather gently few years ago, in 1998. It began rather gently: no arrests have been made, but the government asked for court injunctions against such clubs.
Highly respecting the clubs that is officially recognised by the city of Oakland.
The government won a suit in federal court for injunction of closing such clubs for a while.
That suit made its own way to the US Supreme Court last year which issued a very famous decision that most people had heard about supporting the government. This decision has been a court decision against the opened clubs that has been widely misinterpreted to mean that medical marijuana is illegal and that federal governments override the state law.
That is not what the actual court decision said; it was a procedural decision as to further distributors of marijuana, like the open club, could claim defence in federal courts on ground of medical necessity. The court said that there was no medical necessity defence in the states that use that, but it did not address an important medical questions about what the federal government has been doing.
In specific, does the federal government have authority to try to override state law at first place. Remember that the US government is theoretically a federal government based on rights of states and there is a real constitutional question on whether is a state has officially recognised the right of people to use marijuana for medicine rather federal law can override that under the view of the Constitution.
Theoretically the governments are powerful over the control of the substance. Drug laws are based on its power.
What we have here is that marijuana has been produced in California by Californian under the specific doctors for Californian patients.
So we claim that this all campaign against the clubs is unconstitutional.
That suit and those issues are actually proceeding to the court now, putting an appeal that is going to be heard late on this month from the open cannabis buyers co-operative itself.
We are hopeful in a law that this argument or similar ones will prevail but in the meantime the Supreme Court decision has been interpreted by the administration as a green light to try to go after all the clubs we can.
We have seen in the past years a real escalation of activity. After 9/11, for the first time we saw the federal court coming out with not a court injunction but actually some clinics and very well respected cannabis co-operative were closed down in Las Angeles.
Since then the campaign has escalated and I can tell you in fact that there are now far more people that could be arrested for medical marijuana in California than for terrorism, for example.
We have 40 cases currently going on and many more are going to be held into the federal courts.
The most serious raid however has occurred after September 5th. The government did something never expected it would do. It arrested a group called women alliance for medical marijuana in Santa Cruz, California.
This is a collective of about 250 seriously locations, almost have terminal illnesses who have been collectively growing marijuana in farms on private sites in beautiful places on Pacific Ocean.
They have been basically growing for themselves; they shared the medicine amongst themselves and they take care of eachothers health. This has proved to be a model of medical marijuana distribution and it is complete legal under proposition 2-15; it is collective grown by patients.
We have never thought that federal government would have go after these people but it did. They arrested patients and ended up to release them perhaps afraid that would be unable to successfully prosecute them.
This has risen a storm of protests everywhere.
The Santa Cruz City Council itself was so upset by this that posted a demonstration couple of weeks later in which members of WEM publically in front of the national cameras distributed marijuana to a dozen of their patients in front of the City Hall.
The DDA said that they disobeyed federal law had helicopters over head but of course no arrests actually happened.
There have been a lot of other reactions strongly protesting against the federal government, other local congress spoke about this and there have been protests state wild and nation wild medical marijuana raids.
There is an organisation, which is organising civil disobedience demonstration whenever there are raids of cannabis clubs in California.
Recently, we had a demonstration in Sacramento where hundred of people came, there were 30 arrests there and there was demonstration on the White House.
Some people have been arrested by themselves for the White House offence. That got its publicity as well.
This is not over; I think we are going to see some more serious raids in the coming months against the remaining clubs in San Francisco because there have been actually distribution system. I think it is going to be impossible for the government to eliminate or suppress them every time some new clubs and groups rise.
Historically, there is very little they can do about it but there is a lot of human damage that can happen.
Another thing we see is that people are going to prison: we recently had first conviction of a medical marijuana club provider in Sacramento who naively started a club back in 1997. He was perfectly legal.
Unfortunately he got fed up in federal law and he was recently sentenced of a mandatory minimum of ten years in prison.
We had another case in San Diego: a patient tried to be public in what he was doing, he gave marijuana to some patients in front of cameras. The DDA came and arrested him and boosted him for 20 plants, which is a legal number for federal patients in California.
We have to understand that federal government does not get involved for things less then 5.000 or thousand plants, but now we are going after people with 20, 50 or 100 plants if they are publically outspoken like him who got a possible 5 years mandatory sentence plus the condition of his relief was that he may not use marijuana. He is drug addicted and has serious problems that almost lead him to commit suicide in the past.
This is a very serious human right issue and I am confident that Americans and the world in general would disapprove this.
I have got to say that I am hopeful actually due to the nowadays situation. There are going to be more arrests, I think that there is public support for medical marijuana particularly encouraged by the possible situation in federal court with regards to these people like the woman alliance for medical marijuana. They have very strong legal claims under the US Constitution because they are not involved in commerce of any source. These are people who are just looking after their own medical problems and we think there is a strong case to be made in front of the Constitution that they have arrive to relief the pain and suffer protected thanks to the state law and provisions under the Constitution. We can prevail in the federal court but it is going to take a while for that to happen.
There is also the possibility that we might have some legislation coming out of Congress on this.
I should say that there is no chance of anything useful coming out Washington DC so long that the Republican Party holds the US House of Representatives.
Hopefully, if the Democrats should take control of the House of Representatives this November or some future November we will see some motions because actually the democratic minority leadership are highly supporter of medical marijuana and the drug reform in general and we will start see some hearings on this but I think that it will start changing the agenda in Washington DC.
In any case I think that in the next two, three years we will see some breakthrow on this and when that happens I believe you will start see a new tied in Washington itself that I think will have a repercussion for the world-wide community as well. I am optimistic.
I think that this medical club marijuana has been great and that they really worked out.
The public have supported them because they see that they help bringing marijuana out of the streets and putting in some places where it id distributed under a responsible fairly manner.
This is threat for DDA that doesn' t want marijuana to be available to anybody and that is why they are fighting this.
But I think that this can be a model for everyone to promote legalisation of drugs in general.
I propose a club model as a way of allowing a distribution of lots of drugs, things like ecstasies and drugs that do not fill other categories very easily.
Under this model I am proposing, users will be allowed to establish clubs where they can provide the medicine for themselves, the drug for themselves will not be advertising, not promotionally distributing but people can come to the club where they can get medical exams and user education.
In addition, these clubs could take responsibility for medical problems caused by the drug abused and become provider themselves rather then keeping disjuncted as they are now under the standard system of legalised distribution of alcohol.
The clubs would be responsible for the abuses occurred and promote more responsible use.

Thank you.

Dale Gieringer, Drug Policy Forum of California and California NORMAL

(Text not revised by the author)