California NORML Agenda for Reform in 2009

Buoyed by Obama’s election and the end of the Bush regime, California NORML will be pushing for meaningful changes in marijuana enforcement in the coming year.


An immediate, high-priority goal is to realize Obama’s pledge of ending DEA medical marijuana raids in California. Scores of raids have been reported in the last year, including several since the election.

Over 100 defendants have been cited with federal charges for medical cannabis under the Bush regime, according to a compilation by Cal NORML. Several are serving lengthy sentences, among them DC Costa, sentenced to 13 years for a Merced grow-op, and Luke Scarmazzo and Ricardo Montes, sentenced to 21 and 20 years respectively for a taxpaying Modesto dispensary that was somehow judged a “continuing criminal enterprise.”

Other defendants are still in court fighting potentially harsh mandatory minimums. Charles C. Lynch, who was convicted for operating a dispensary in Morro Bay that had been opened with approval of city officials, faces a potential 5-year mandatory minimum. His sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 12th, 2009 at the LA Federal Court House. In another high-profile case, Eddy Lepp faces a potential 10-year mandatory minimum for planting a collective marijuana field in full public view; his sentencing is scheduled for Feb 23rd in San Francisco Feb. 23rd.

Yet other defendants have been dragging their feet in court, in the hopes that Obama will appoint more reasonable US attorneys. Some Bush appointees have already submitted resignations, including Eastern District attorney McGregor Scott, an arch-enemy of Prop. 215, who has made a point of trying to forfeit property from small-time medical growers.

California NORML has sent a report on recent forfeiture cases to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, who has promised to hold hearings on DEA forfeiture abuses, including the spate of landlord forfeiture letters.

“Now that Attorney General Brown has issued guidelines for medical collectives, it is time for the federal government to stop raiding and harassing collectives who abide by state law,” says Cal NORML director Dale Gieringer.


A petition to reschedule marijuana for medical use, filed by a coalition of groups including California NORML, has been pending before the Bush administration for six years. NORML and other advocates will be urging the Obama administration to give prompt review to the petition and remove marijuana from Schedule 1.


Another immediate goal will be to end federal restrictions on medical marijuana research. In particular, California NORML and MAPS are seeking approval for a study on vaporizers that has been blocked for five years by NIDA and DEA’s refusal to allow researchers access to 10 grams of research-grade marijuana. MAPS is likewise seeking to gain DEA approval of a private research garden at the University of Massachusetts, which has been blocked for more than five years.


A longer-range goal of NORML this year is to continue to press for federal decriminalization. Rep. Barney Frank is expected to re-introduce a bill to completely eliminate federal penalties for modest amounts of marijuana. Reformers do not expect the Congress or Obama to move on decriminalization anytime soon, but they are hopeful that there may at least be serious hearings on the issue. Prospects for favorable congressional consdideration have been improved by the elevation of Rep. Henry Waxman of Los Angeles to the chairmanship of the powerful Commerce Committee, which oversees Controlled Substances Act legislation. Waxman, a long-time supporter of decrim, replaces the crusty, socially conservative Rep. John Dingell.


At the state level, California NORML’s major goal remains to establish a legal, “taxed and regulated” production and distribution system for marijuana.

With respect to medical marijuana, there exists widespread agreement from all sides, including both patients and law enforcement, that legislation is needed to establish a better regulated, fully legalized medical marijuana distribution and production system in California. However, it is also agreed that this will require changes in federal regulations to permit legal distribution. State legislators are understandably reluctant to pursue legislation unless and until the Obama administration develops a new federal policy, which could well take months or years. In the meantime, California NORML and other reform groups believe that it is premature to submit a legislative proposal for medical marijuana distribution.

For the immediate future, prospects for other marijuana reform legislation in Sacramento appear dim. An important obstacle is Gov. Schwarzenegger, who has consistently vetoed every cannabis reform bill to come before his desk. Among them were a landmark bill to protect medical marijuana patients from employment discrimination plus two industrial hemp bills sponsored by Assemblyman Mark Leno (now a State Senator). Speaking to the NORML conference in Berkeley, Leno indicated interest in re-introducing legislation, but the stance of the Governator remains problematic. Schwarzengger has consistently kowtowed to the narcotics enforcement establishment, led by his chief public safety advisor, Tom Sawyer, a former Merced County sheriff and dogged opponent of medical marijuana.

There is little likelihood that the state will move to further decriminalize adult marijuana use in the near future. This November’s election saw the defeat of an initiative that would have reduced marijuana possession from a misdemeanor to an infraction. Proposition 5, an ambitious measure to put drug offenders in treatment rather than prison, was defeated 40-60% following a massive donation of opposition money from the prison guards.


Given the stalemate in Sacramento, local government offers the brightest prospects for reform in California this year. California NORML is working with local advocates to develop proposals for locally licensed collective gardens in Mendocino and other Emerald Triangle counties, where the problem of uncontrolled wildcat growers has become a burning public issue. Given the current economic crisis and the widespread recognition that eradication programs are failing, licensed production of medical marijuana would offer significant economic advantages to cash-strapped local governments, as well as being legally consistent with state law and the Attorney General’s guidelines. California NORML has estimated that California’s market for medical marijuana could yield $100 million in sales tax revenues alone.

In the Southland, the hope of reduced DEA pressure plus recent court decisions raise the opportunity for an expansion of cannabis collectives into previously under-served areas. A leading candidate is San Diego County, where collectives are effectively banned, and which has had a long-standing lawsuit against SB 420 and Prop 215. The county’s lawsuit was dealt a major blow when the US Supreme Court recently refused to review the state appellate court Kha decision, ordering local law enforcement to enforce state, not federal law.

San Diego’s lawsuit now seems certain to get a similar rejection from the feds, setting the stage for serious efforts by local patients to use SB 420 and the A.G.’s guidelines to form legal collectives and cooperatives. Local activists in Riverside, Santa Barbara, Bakersfield and elsewhere should likewise enjoy expanded opportunities to re-establish collectives in their areas. In Los Angeles, patient advocates face the major project of helping the city devise regulations for the nation’s largest grouping of medical cannabis providers.


In the long term, California NORML’s goal is to establish legal adult use a la Amsterdam, along lines set forth in Oakland’s Measure Z “tax and regulate” initiative. Efforts to make “Oaksterdam” a reality by establishing private adult use clubs have so far been held back by a reluctant City Council. However, Measure Z proponents, including Oaksterdam University founder Richard Lee and California NORML coordinator Dale Gieringer, are hopeful that the election of Obama plus a new city council will promote the development of “taxed and regulated” Measure Z clubs in Oakland.

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