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Three medical marijuana groups have teamed up to support Mendocino County officials in their effort to fight a sweeping federal subpoena filed in October, seeking "any and all records" for the county's medical marijuana cultivation program, otherwise known as County Code 9.31. On December 21st, Mendocino County filed a motion in San Francisco federal court to quash the Justice Department's subpoena, and today Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the Emerald Growers Association (EGA), and California NORML filed a joint amicus 'friend of the court' brief in an attempt to protect the private patient records being sought. A hearing in the case is scheduled for 2pm on January 4th, before federal District Court Judge Richard Seeborg in San Francisco.
"Despite telling Americans that medical marijuana patients are not being targeted, the Obama Administration's contempt for them and its intent to undermine California's medical marijuana law has been laid bare with this subpoena," said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford, who co-authored the amicus brief filed today. "Mendocino County is completely justified in its refusal to cooperate with the grand jury subpoena and we're proud to support the county officials in that effort." The amicus brief called the subpoena "needlessly broad" and argued it would have "serious and longstanding repercussions" by "reveal[ing] privileged and confidential medical information...[and] undermin[ing] the County's considered and thoughtful attempts to regulate medical marijuana pursuant to state law."
In what has turned into one of the fiercest battlegrounds between California officials and the Obama Administration, the U.S. Justice Department has aggressively gone after one of the only cultivation registration programs in the state. Before the program was shut down in March due to threats of federal injunctions from U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, registrants were allowed to collectively grow up to 99 plants and were sold zip ties for $50 per plant to show they were being cultivated in compliance with state law.
The Mendocino cultivation program had been of longstanding interest to the Obama Administration. In 2010, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) raided the legal crop of Joy Greenfield, who was the first cultivator to register with the Sheriff's Office in the widely popular program that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars of new revenue for the county. No arrests were made in the Greenfield raid, but all of her and her patients' medicine was destroyed. The DEA then raided the registered farm of Matt Cohen and Northstone Organics in October 2011, destroying medical marijuana that was meant for hundreds of patients across the state.
A federal subpoena for the records of 17 patients held by the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program (OMMP) was quashed in 2007, after the Oregon Attorney General successfully defended the OMMP and the privacy rights of patients in federal court. However, last year the Justice Department was successful at obtaining the records of 7 unknown patients from the Michigan Department of Community Health, after State Attorney General Bill Schuette.failed to defend the privacy rights of Michigan patients despite such protections explicitly outlined in state law. California Attorney General Kamala Harris has not yet commented on the federal subpoena in Mendocino County.
"It was not enough for the Justice Department to shut down Mendocino's cultivation program," continued Elford. "It seems the federal government will stop at nothing to crush attempts by local officials to regulate the cultivation of medical marijuana." In a previous statement, coalition partner EGA said that these latest federal actions "undermine and chill the County's ability to effectively regulate cannabis cultivation," and "endanger the public health, welfare and safety of Mendocino County residents."
Coalition amicus brief filed today: https://AmericansForSafeAccess.org/downloads/Mendocino_Amicus_Brief.pdf
Mendocino County's motion to quash: https://AmericansForSafeAccess.org/downloads/Mendocino_MTQ.pdf
Federal grand jury subpoena: https://AmericansForSafeAccess.org/downloads/Mendocino_Subpoena.pdf
Americans for Safe Access is the nation's largest organization of patients, medical professionals, scientists and concerned citizens promoting safe and legal access to cannabis for therapeutic use and research.
"House Republicans are trying to slash lifelines for middle-class families on behalf of rich special interests," said a White House spokesperson.
The White House on Saturday condemned a newly introduced Republican bill that would repeal the Inflation Reduction Act, a law that includes a number of changes aimed at lowering costs for Medicare recipients.
Unveiled Thursday by freshman Rep. Andy Ogles (R-Tenn.), the bill has 20 original co-sponsors and is endorsed by several right-wing groups, including the Koch-funded organization Americans for Prosperity.
The Biden White House argued that rolling back the Inflation Reduction Act, which also contains major climate investments, would represent "one of the biggest Medicare benefit cuts in American history" as well as a "handout to Big Pharma." According to Politico, which first reported the White House's response to the GOP bill, the administration is planning to release "state-by-state data indicating how this would affect constituents in different areas."
"House Republicans are trying to slash lifelines for middle-class families on behalf of rich special interests," White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said in a statement. "Who on earth thinks that welfare for Big Pharma is worth selling out over a million seniors in their home state?”
The Inflation Reduction Act authorized a $35-per-month cap on insulin copayments for Medicare recipients, as well as an annual $2,000 total limit on out-of-pocket drug costs.
The bill will also, among other long-overdue changes, allow Medicare to begin negotiating the prices of a subset of the most expensive prescription drugs directly with pharmaceutical companies, which fiercely opposed the law and are working with Republicans to sabotage it. The newly negotiated prices are set to take effect in 2026.
Ogles, whose two-page bill would eliminate the above reforms, repeatedly attacked Medicare, Medicaid, and other federal programs and protections during his 2022 campaign for the U.S. House.
\u201cNEW @Campbell4TN ad in TN-5: \u201cExtreme Andy Ogles in his own words \u2014 a SUPERCUT\u201d\n\nWatch @AndyOgles back a no exceptions abortion ban, cutting Medicare & Medicaid, eliminating Dept of Ed, impeaching Biden, deny the election was legit, etc\u2026 do better, TN-5.\nhttps://t.co/YhCRGXIPsU\u201d— The Tennessee Holler (@The Tennessee Holler) 1667748662
The White House's critique of Ogles' bill comes as Biden is facing pressure from advocates and physicians to cancel a Medicare privatization scheme that his administration inherited from its right-wing predecessor and rebranded.
It also comes as the White House is locked in a standoff with House Republicans over the debt ceiling. Republican lawmakers have pushed for deeply unpopular cuts to Medicare, Social Security, and other critical federal programs as a necessary condition for any deal to raise the country's borrowing limit and avert a catastrophic default.
"In less than a month, MAGA extremists have threatened to drive the economy into a recession by defaulting on our debt, promised to bring up a bill to impose a 30% national sales tax, and now have introduced legislation to repeal the Inflation Reduction Act," Patrick Gaspard, president and CEO of the Democratic Party-aligned Center for American Progress said in a statement. "This will cut taxes for corporations who earn billions in profit while empowering Big Pharma and Big Oil to continue ripping off the American people."
"It is vital that all Americans understand what is at risk if MAGA extremists succeed in passing their latest dangerous idea: millions of lost jobs, millions more without health insurance, and higher costs for lifesaving insulin, utilities, and more," Gaspard added.
One election expert called the decision an "electoral coup."
Guatemala's Supreme Electoral Tribunal ruled earlier this week that a leftist presidential ticket headed by Indigenous human rights defender Thelma Cabrera should be barred from the June ballot, prompting fury and vows of mass protests from Cabrera's supporters.
Thursday's ruling—which Cabrera's young political party, the Movement for the Liberation of the Peoples (MLP), is vowing to appeal to the Supreme Court of Justice—stems from Guatemala electoral authorities' refusal to certify the candidacy of Cabrera's running mate, former human rights ombudsman Jordán Rodas.
Reporting indicates that election officials have justified stonewalling Rodas—a longtime target of Guatemala's right-wing political establishment—by citing supposed "anomalies during the collection of compensation" upon his departure from the ombudsman post last year.
But Cabrera and Rodas contend that the electoral tribunal's decision is a politically motivated attempt to keep a left-wing party—whose base is largely rural—off the ballot, which is set to include the daughter of Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt, the former U.S.-backed Guatemalan dictator who was convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity in 2013.
Montt's victims were largely Indigenous peasants.
Last month, the same electoral body that deemed Cabrera and Rodas disqualified from the June ballot ruled that Zury Ríos can participate, despite a constitutional provision barring the relatives of coup leaders from serving as Guatemala's president. Ríos was blocked from the 2019 presidential ballot on those grounds.
That year, as Nick Burns of Americas Quarterly recently reported, Cabrera "gave the Guatemalan political establishment a shock" by winning 10% of the vote in the presidential election.
"It was the most successful presidential run by an indigenous person in Guatemala’s modern history—the only other was by Nobel Prize winner Rigoberta Menchú in 2007, who won 3% of the vote," Burns noted. "Cabrera’s biography is striking. She grew up in a Maya Mam family of poor laborers on a coffee plantation on Guatemala's Pacific coast and was married at 15. She described in a book how she and her sister Vilma went to school through the sixth grade because their mother—who could not read or write—saw education as crucial."
Cabrera's supporters have vowed to "paralyze the country" with large-scale demonstrations if the electoral body's decision isn't reversed.
"If they do not do it, we are going to take over the international airport, the three ports of the country, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, and all state institutions," said one MLP supporter. "We are Indigenous, we are Maya, and we can be out here for a month!"
\u201c#EUElecciones2023 Manifestantes amenazan con tomar el Aeropuerto Internacional La Aurora, los tres puertos del pa\u00eds y el TSE si no se inscribe al binomio presidencial del MLP | V\u00eda @noel_solis \n\n\ud83d\uddf3\ufe0f\ud83c\uddec\ud83c\uddf9 #Elecciones2023 #EleccionesGT #GUATEVOTA2023\u201d— Emisoras Unidas (@Emisoras Unidas) 1675357690
Daniel Zovatto, a political scientist and expert in Latin American elections, said the tribunal's ruling against the MLP presidential ticket amounts to an "electoral coup" that "vitiates the integrity and credibility" of the upcoming contest.
Rodas, a human rights champion, lamented in response to the decision that "democracy in Guatemala has taken another step back."
"They are afraid of the people and their sovereign decisions," he said.