By Sarah Stewart-Bussey, 3L
On February 27, the Center for Law and Social Justice, led by Director Professor Alex Kreit, hosted Joe Elford, Chief Counsel of the Americans for Safe Access. The organization promotes "safe and legal access to cannabis for therapeutic use and research." Elford is a Yale Law School graduate, a medical marijuana patient advocacy attorney and has been representing medical marijuana patients for the past 7-8 years.
Elford spoke about the history of medical marijuana laws within the United States, but most specifically within California since the 1996 "Compassionate Use Act" was passed. The Act allowed medical marijuana patients to cultivate marijuana plants for their personal use, and required that a medical doctor recommend the individual use medical marijuana to be considered a qualified patient.
More recently, Elford discussed how the federal government has sought to undermine California medical marijuana laws through various avenues, most notably with mandatory minimum sentencing laws for those cultivating marijuana, and going after medical marijuana dispensaries in California using federal agents and resources. Elford emphasized the fact that federal courts do not recognize "medicinal use of marijuana" as a defense, which has impacted those charged in federal courts with cultivating for personal medical use.
Elford is in the process of trying to petition the government to re-schedule marijuana. It currently is a Schedule 1 drug; considered to have no currently accepted medical use and the highest abuse potential. Elford strongly disputed these two categorizations and is working diligently on a pending case to have these claims considered.
Further, Elford's practice focuses on the 10th Amendment as a means of disputing federal resources being expended to shut down dispensaries operating under California law. The 10th Amendment poses a limit on commerce clause powers, and recognizes that the federal government cannot conscript the states to enforce federal law. Elford asserted that the federal threats to California dispensaries violate the 10th Amendment by depriving the state of its decision regarding how to expend state resources.
The panel had more than 40 students in attendance and most of them were quoted as being "extremely interested" in medical marijuana litigation.