U.S. Attorney John Walsh's seizure letters to 23 dispensaries near schools -- and his promise that he's not bluffing -- has led to protests from national organizations like Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). Now, local groups are staging a Medical Marijuana Day of Action, which includes a letter-writing campaign and a noon rally at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
According to attorney Shawn Hauser, members of the medical marijuana community, including lawyers, business owners and representatives of advocacy outfits ranging from Sensible Colorado to the National Cannabis Industry Association, have "gotten together to make a united stand for the rights of patients and the state." To that end, interested parties are encouraged to get in touch with Walsh, members of Congress from Colorado, Attorney General Eric Holder (Walsh's boss) and others to express their displeasure with the U.S. Attorney's actions. Two examples of sample letters are on view below, and links to contact information for the state's congressional delegation are available at the website of the Medical Marijuana Assistance Program of America, a key Day of Action participant.
"We feel a strong message from Coloradans, especially the patients themselves, is important," Hauser says. "We're asking every patient and supporter to call their congressperson, tell them that they're a constituent in their district, and let them know that we have a state system that's working, and federal interference isn't right.
"We have the most highly regulated medical marijuana system in the country," she continues, "and they're doing a great job of safely regulating medical marijuana here. There's never been an issue of kids getting marijuana from a dispensary. In fact, kids can't even go into one. So we're asking the U.S. Attorney to cease his action and stop trying to shut down dispensaries that are legal under state law, and which spent hundreds of thousands of dollars complying with state laws. And we're asking our representatives in Colorado to contact John Walsh and ask him to stop interfering with this tightly regulated law."
Meanwhile, today's rally is intended as a response to another recent controversy -- the health department's decision to deny or reject medical marijuana license applications from patients who may have been examined by nurse practitioners or physician assistants, as opposed to actual doctors. The denial-versus-rejection distinction is important. If it can be proven that a patient didn't see a doctor, the application will be denied and affected patients won't be allowed to apply again for six months -- and since some of them previously faced long delays, the actual span could be nearly a year. However, if the department isn't certain a doctor wasn't involved, the application will merely be rejected, and a patient can reapply immediately.
Denied patients can appeal this decision, but MMAPA regional director Miguel Valdez says the process has been unnecessarily laborious.
"Patients who've been receiving letters of denial" -- the MMAPA estimates that there have been at least 460 of them so far -- "are being told they have to wait indefinitely for someone from the CDPHE to contact them for their appeal. And while we applaud the CDPHE for trying to make sure patients have safe access, these patients are being punished for seeing nurse practitioners or PAs who they thought were perfectly okay to examine them.
"These patients have a legitimate need for medical cannabis, whether they're AIDS patients, cancer patients or have chronic pain conditions like sciatic nerve conditions, and many of them have been on the registry for multiple years. We'd like to see an expedited process so patients who were denied can have their appeal and be allowed to reapply to the registry, so they can continue to use their preferred choice of medicine."
About a hundred of those who've been denied have begun the appeal process, Valdez estimates, but in his view, that's not nearly enough. Moreover, he sees the department's approach as forcing innocent patients to stop using their medication even though they had nothing to do with what the CDPHE considers to be a fraudulent recommendation.
"This is affecting everyone," he maintains. "Patients lose faith in the medical marijuana program if they are constantly facing hurdles and obstacles. They're just going to throw up their hands and say, 'Screw it.' And that will lead them to go back to the black market, where there aren't any regulations, where they don't have safe access, and where they're considered criminals just for obtaining the medication they need. And it negatively affects businesses that have been trying to build goodwill between patients and have been trying to play by the rules of the game.
"We don't want to be combative with the CDPHE," Valdez stresses. "But someone somewhere is telling them to make things difficult for patients and the industry, and that's unacceptable."
The rally takes place at noon at the CDPHE offices, at 4300 Cherry Creek Drive South.
January 25, 2012
U.S. Attorney John F. Walsh 1225 17th Street, Suite 700 Denver, CO 80202
Dear Mr. Walsh,
I have been diagnosed with [state your condition] and have become a Colorado medical cannabis patient. [describe how cannabis helps your condition] I am writing to protest your office's decision to force the closure of the Medical Marijuana Center I patronize.
This Medical Marijuana Center operates within the rules established by the state of Colorado and is not a threat to children in the neighborhood. Children are not allowed in dispensaries and I have never seen any children hanging around the center. Under Colorado law, communities have the option to ban these businesses, but in this case the community approved this business and even issued them a license to operate. If any business or person is ever caught selling marijuana to children, they will be criminally prosecuted by our local and state regulatory authorities in conjunction with the local District Attorney.
In the past, all cannabis was provided by unlicensed caregivers and grown in basements in neighborhoods across the state. Our state legislature decided this was not the best way to control marijuana from reaching our youth. The actions of your office to shut down tightly regulated businesses will only increase the demand of marijuana from unegulated sources. This will likely increase the amount of marijuana in our schools because unlicensed sources are not required to take any security and anti-diversion measures. Worse, empowering street dealers creates the social conditions that encourage these dealers to push truly addictive drugs on our youth.
The best way to combat children using drugs is through thoughtful and honest education. Shutting down medical facilities does not send the right message to our youth about the purpose of the federal government. A great example of effective public education is cigarettes. I recommend that your office use its limited resources to encourage a similar campaign related to marijuana.
This center is convenient for me and others in this neighborhood. It provides the medicine I need to manage my [state your condition]. This business operates within Colorado's laws and should be allowed to continue to provide me my much needed and doctor reccomended medication.
In December, the U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder, said about medical marijuana that "people acting in conformity with the (state) law would not be an enforcement priority for the Justice Department." Your office's actions are in direct contradiction of the U.S. Attorney's position.
I urge you to act in conformance with Mr. Holder's statement to congress and not invalidate Colorado's regulatory process and ignore the sovereignty of our state. Please follow the will of the citizens of Colorado as expressed by our constitution and statutes.
Here is an alternative last paragraph if you do not want to sign your name:
Regrettably, I choose not to sign this letter out of fear of reprisal from the federal government. It is a sad day for our republic when Colorado citizens following Colorado law cannot exercise their right to openly seek redress of grievences from the U.S. government.
Template for industry letter to Congress:
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January 25, 2012
[Insert appropriate representative's name and address]
I am writing to respectfully object to the recent decision by Mr. John Walsh, the U.S. Attorney for Colorado, to target Colorado's medical marijuana industry. I request that you ask Mr. Walsh to stop shutting down licensed Colorado businesses. Mr. Walsh's actions are in direct contravention of President Obama's campaign promises and Attorney General Eric Holder's sworn statement to Congress on December 9, 2011 that "people acting in conformity with the (state) law would not be an enforcement priority for the Justice Department."
Mr. Walsh is inappropriately applying a law (Title 21, US Code, Section 856(a)) which was designed to punish illegal street dealers operating near school. He is misusing this law to shut down lawful businesses that are operating with approval from the State of Colorado and their local communities. Medical Marijuana Centers are not public places. They only serve sick, adult patients who have been certified as such by their doctor in a bona fide doctor patient relationship. Mr. Walsh's actions are drastically hurting the sickest and most vulnerable members of our community because these patients will no longer be able to obtain the medicine they need.
In addition, Mr. Walsh's actions puts at risk 800 local business and 8,000 to 10,000 Colorado jobs, and costing local governments millions in lost revenue. An industry survey revealed that over $400,000,000 has been contributed to Colorado's economy by the medical marijuana industry and millions in state and local tax revenue.
I am extremely disappointed in the overreach of the federal government. Colorado has implemented a stringent, tightly regulated medical marijuana program to implement the will of the people as expressed in amendment 20, Colorado's medical marijuana constitutional amendment. Our tightly regulated state licensing program -- which passed with bipartisan support in our state legislature -- permits local governments to decide where medical marijuana centers can be located including banning them altogether. It's wholly inappropriate for the federal government to get involved in local zoning decisions. If any of these businesses are caught selling medical marijuana to children, they will be shut down immediately by the local and state regulatory authorities, regardless of their location. Colorado is pioneering the development of a safe regulatory process for the production, distribution and sale of medicinal cannabis. Many of the elements of our program are being examined by other states as they look to see what works (and what doesn't) in Colorado.
A recent study of over 32,000 students presented to the American Public Health Association in 2011 found that "while marijuana use was common throughout the study period, there were no statistically significant differences in marijuana use [among youth] between states in any year." Indeed, a recent report from Colorado Springs showed that school officials did not see any increase in cannabis consumption among students despite the presence of nearby medical marijuana centers. It is the illegal street dealers, not medical marijuana centers that we need to keep our children away from. These street dealers are the ones who lure children into using dangerous drugs. Medical marijuana business owners have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to build facilities and comply with state regulations and would not jeopardize that investment for a quick sale to a child.
If Democrat Medical marijuana has widespread support across the country, with polls showing support as high as 80%. President Obama promised not to interfere with our state's medical marijuana laws. If the president doesn't hold true to his campaign promise, he is going have a hard time activating his base here in Colorado this time around. Colorado's medical cannabis program is saving tax dollars spent on a failed cannabis prohibition program and generating new taxes that are being used to educate Colorado's children and provide for the general welfare of its citizens. ----------------------------------- If Republican, use this instead. This might also be used with democrats. Colorado is saving the tax money spent on a failed cannabis prohibition program and is generating millions in new taxes that are being used to educate Colorado's children and provide for the general welfare of its citizens. Like other herbal medicines, medicinal cannabis is a substance that can and should be regulated by Colorado under the 10th amendment. This ensures that local communities and states have the opportunity to decide for themselves how they want to regulate the product rather than being dictated to by the federal government. __________________________________________________________________________
I respectfully request that you ask Mr. Walsh to stop this unwarranted attack on the right of Colorado to effectively regulate an industry operating wholly within the state of Colorado. Please protect our community from the overreach of the U.S. Attorney's office.
FOR THOSE WHO DO NOT WANT TO SIGN A LETTER, consider this as your closing paragraph:
Regrettably, I choose not to sign this letter out of fear of reprisal from the federal government. It is a sad day for our republic when Colorado citizens following Colorado law cannot exercise their right to openly seek redress of grievances from the U.S. Government.
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More from our Marijuana archive: "Medical marijuana: Physician assistants the cause of delayed applications?"