Archive for the ‘Medical Marijuana Dispensaries’ category

Federal Crackdown Busts Montana’s MMJ Industry

May 12th, 2013

If American society’s tolerance for marijuana is now growing, then what happened in Montana illustrates just what can happen when the government decides things have gone too far. Pot advocates were running caravans, helping hundreds of residents in a day get medical marijuana user cards. Some doctors who conducted cursory exams on scores of people were fined. As the number of users quickly grew, so did a retail industry that led some to dub the state “Big High Country.”

Today, thousands of medical pot providers have gone out of business, and a health department survey showed that the number of registered users have fallen to less than a quarter of their 2011 numbers.

The drop was driven in part by a tougher 2011 law on medical marijuana use and distribution. But more than anything, marijuana advocates say, the demise of the once-booming medical pot industry was the result of the largest federal drug-trafficking investigation in the state’s industry.

The three-year investigation by the U.S. attorney’s office, the Drug Enforcement Administration and other federal agencies wrapped up last week when the last of 33 convicted defendants was sentenced. That allowed its architect, U.S. Attorney Michael Cotter, to speak publicly for the first time on the crackdown.

“For a long time, we were hearing complaints from local law enforcement and from citizens … that they were tired of marijuana and they were tired of it next to schools, to churches, people smoking it openly on the streets,” Cotter said in an interview with The Associated Press.

“It was just something that had to be done,” he said. “And the result of doing it the way that we did, it was a strong statement that marijuana wasn’t going to be tolerated in Montana.”

Cotter said he believes he is on the right side of history, regardless of what is happening in the country. Last fall, voters in Colorado and Washington state passed laws to legalize recreational pot use, and a Pew Research Center poll released last month found 52 percent of Americans think marijuana should be legal.

The Justice Department has yet to decide whether to sue in federal court to block Colorado and Washington’s laws under the legal argument that federal laws outlawing any use, possession or distribution of marijuana prevail over state laws.

In Montana, what started out as a system to provide marijuana to those with health problems turned the state into a source for drug trafficking, Cotter said. The industry had ballooned so much and so quickly that drug traffickers were operating under the guise of medicinal caregivers, and the pot was being sent to users in New Jersey, Virginia, Colorado and other states, he said.

Now, marijuana is still in Montana, but it’s manageable, he said.

The investigations were split geographically into three parts: Operation Smokejumper, Operation Weed Be Gone and Operation Noxious Weed. They targeted medical marijuana providers dealing in more than 100 plants and came away with 34 indictments, from a longtime state lobbyist to a former University of Montana quarterback.

Most of those arrested argued at first that they were following the state’s medical marijuana law. When federal prosecutors, led by Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Thaggard, successfully squelched that argument in court, all but three of the providers made plea deals.

The federal Controlled Substances Act, which bans any distribution or use of marijuana, trumps state law, Thaggard said. Besides, the investigation found that none of the defendants was following state law, he added.

“I think that we were confident that if we had to go down that road, we would show just how out of compliance these people were,” Thaggard said.

The final scorecard: 33 convictions. Thirty-one made plea deals, two went to trial and lost and the case against the accountant of a provider was dismissed.

Federal prosecutors in other states watched closely as the probe unfolded in Montana, and was widely seen as a success and possibly a model for others, Cotter said.

“Speaking through enforcement action does have the deterrent effect that is needed,” Cotter said. “It had the effect that we were looking for, and that was to deter the trafficking of marijuana.”

Montana Cannabis Information Association spokesman and Marijuana Policy Project lobbyist Chris Lindsey — who also was one of the 33 providers convicted in the probe — agreed the federal investigation was the main driver in changing the shape of the industry.

But a federal crackdown won’t stem the tide of the public will, he said.

Montana residents are increasingly in favor of improving the medical marijuana laws so there is better regulation and better access for those who need it, Lindsey said. “In Montana, it seems our options have only been the wild, wild West or no activity at all. Ultimately, we will be in the middle,” Lindsey said.

Cotter and DEA Agent in Charge Brady MacKay, who led much of the investigation, dispute that medical marijuana is beneficial for the seriously ill. They say patients who need the relief that marijuana provides should get it from Marinol, a prescription drug that contains some of the properties of marijuana.

“I think it’s Madison Avenue marketing, the person who dreamed up tying medical and marijuana together,” Cotter said. “It’s a powerful marketing tool. But the fact of the matter remains that marijuana is a dangerous drug and it’s harmful to people,” Cotter said.

Source: Billings Gazette, The (MT)
Published: May 12, 2013
Copyright: 2013 The Billings Gazette
Contact: speakup@billingsgazette.com
Website: http://www.billingsgazette.com/

The Marijuana Measures

May 10th, 2013

The regulation of medical marijuana in Los Angeles is a mess and has been ever since Proposition 215 was approved by California voters in November 1996.

Repeated state and city efforts to bring the chaotic situation under control have had little effect. A move by the City Council in 2007 to register medical marijuana dispensaries, for instance, led instead to an unexpected proliferation. An attempt to limit them in 2010 drew 66 lawsuits and a court-ordered injunction. An ordinance to ban them outright in 2012 was quickly repealed after marijuana businesses gathered enough signatures for a referendum to overturn the measure. Court decisions designed to clarify the murky laws have instead contradicted one another.

Today, there are an estimated 850 dispensaries — or maybe it’s 1,000 or 1,600 (no one seems sure) — operating in Los Angeles despite the city’s position that they’re illegal. Everyone knows that medical marijuana can be easily obtained by recreational users who aren’t truly sick. The “medicine” is not monitored by the government for potential health or safety problems; the dispensaries, by many accounts, are not nonprofit “collectives,” as state law requires (although it’s not really clear what a nonprofit collective is or isn’t). Residents in some neighborhoods complain that they are being overrun by dispensaries, and that many pot shops serve as hubs for crime.

A mess, like we said. And on May 21, Angelenos will have the opportunity to muck it up even further, if they’re not careful. On the ballot will be not one or two but three competing marijuana initiatives: Measures D, E and F.

It would be easy enough to urge a no vote on all three, and to call on the city to impose a full-scale ban instead. After all, The Times opposed Proposition 215 from the outset, partly because it was sloppily written and partly because it set up an inevitable conflict with the federal government, which continues to classify marijuana as illegal and dangerous.

But voting no solves nothing. The people of Los Angeles, like the people of California, overwhelmingly support making medical marijuana available to cancer patients, glaucoma sufferers and others. A ban would be unlikely to pass, and besides, denying marijuana to truly sick patients who can benefit from it would be a step backward. Given that, and given that the status quo is entirely unacceptable, the city’s best hope is to try to carry out the will of the voters with minimal confusion and maximum control to ensure that medical marijuana remains accessible to those who need it.

Measure D will come the closest to accomplishing that goal, or at least will put us on the right road.

Most important, it would impose limits on the number of marijuana businesses in the city, allowing about 135 dispensaries to remain open — those that were operating and registered under city laws in 2007 and that sought to re-register in 2011. Limits are essential. Even people who support easy access to medical cannabis can see that there need to be rules and oversight, as with bars and liquor stores. But resources are limited, and the city can’t police an infinite number of establishments.

Measure D is backed by both mayoral candidates and the current city attorney and his challenger. It applies to any organization of four or more people who cultivate, process, distribute or give away medical marijuana. It hikes the gross receipts tax on their operations — to $60 per $1,000 of gross receipts — and establishes the distances they must keep from schools, parks, one another and residential neighborhoods. It sets hours — they must be closed between 8 p.m. and 10 a.m. — prohibits the consumption of marijuana on the premises and requires background checks on managers, among other provisions.

It is far from perfect. For one thing, it is somewhat arbitrary. Why should a handful of dispensaries that got in under the wire in 2007 be the ones that now get to stay open? There’s no reason to think those particular establishments are more responsible than any other. For another, if it is passed, the city will be required to close hundreds of existing dispensaries, which could prove difficult, legally and practically. Here’s another thing: Measure D doesn’t create a process for a new dispensary to open when one of the 135 closes; that seems like an unfortunate oversight. And it would be far better if the measure could be amended or repealed by the City Council without requiring an additional vote of the people. But it cannot.

Still, Measure D is the best of the bunch.

Measure F, by contrast, sets no limits. It includes some strong rules and protections — in some cases stronger than those in D. But the city simply can’t sustain an unlimited number of dispensaries. Supporters of F say there would be de facto limits as a result of the requirements about how close dispensaries could be to schools, parks and one another, and that the final number would be in the hundreds. But what guarantee is there? Certainly nothing in the law.

As for Measure E — ignore it. That measure became moot after its supporters agreed to throw their support to Measure D.

No matter what you think of medical marijuana, it’s hard to deny that implementation of Proposition 215 has been unsuccessful. The Legislature and the state attorney general’s office were late to offer much-needed guidance. The federal government sent mixed messages about what it would or would not tolerate. The city of Los Angeles has flailed around, trying and failing to devise a workable set of rules.

Even if Measure D passes, there will still be no way to ensure that medical marijuana goes only to the sick people who are entitled to it, or that the product being sold is safe and untainted. Moreover, there will still be no resolution to the ongoing conflict between state and federal law. Perhaps one day the U.S. government will decide that marijuana should no longer be a Schedule I controlled substance, which means it has no medical use and is as dangerous as heroin. If that happens, perhaps the Food and Drug Administration will regulate it, doctors across the country will be able to prescribe it for patients they believe need it, and pharmacies will be able to provide it, just as they do with other medicines.

Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Published: May 10, 2013
Copyright: 2013 Los Angeles Times
Contact: letters@latimes.com
Website: http://www.latimes.com/

The Marijuana Measures

May 10th, 2013

The regulation of medical marijuana in Los Angeles is a mess and has been ever since Proposition 215 was approved by California voters in November 1996.

Repeated state and city efforts to bring the chaotic situation under control have had little effect. A move by the City Council in 2007 to register medical marijuana dispensaries, for instance, led instead to an unexpected proliferation. An attempt to limit them in 2010 drew 66 lawsuits and a court-ordered injunction. An ordinance to ban them outright in 2012 was quickly repealed after marijuana businesses gathered enough signatures for a referendum to overturn the measure. Court decisions designed to clarify the murky laws have instead contradicted one another.

Today, there are an estimated 850 dispensaries — or maybe it’s 1,000 or 1,600 (no one seems sure) — operating in Los Angeles despite the city’s position that they’re illegal. Everyone knows that medical marijuana can be easily obtained by recreational users who aren’t truly sick. The “medicine” is not monitored by the government for potential health or safety problems; the dispensaries, by many accounts, are not nonprofit “collectives,” as state law requires (although it’s not really clear what a nonprofit collective is or isn’t). Residents in some neighborhoods complain that they are being overrun by dispensaries, and that many pot shops serve as hubs for crime.

A mess, like we said. And on May 21, Angelenos will have the opportunity to muck it up even further, if they’re not careful. On the ballot will be not one or two but three competing marijuana initiatives: Measures D, E and F.

It would be easy enough to urge a no vote on all three, and to call on the city to impose a full-scale ban instead. After all, The Times opposed Proposition 215 from the outset, partly because it was sloppily written and partly because it set up an inevitable conflict with the federal government, which continues to classify marijuana as illegal and dangerous.

But voting no solves nothing. The people of Los Angeles, like the people of California, overwhelmingly support making medical marijuana available to cancer patients, glaucoma sufferers and others. A ban would be unlikely to pass, and besides, denying marijuana to truly sick patients who can benefit from it would be a step backward. Given that, and given that the status quo is entirely unacceptable, the city’s best hope is to try to carry out the will of the voters with minimal confusion and maximum control to ensure that medical marijuana remains accessible to those who need it.

Measure D will come the closest to accomplishing that goal, or at least will put us on the right road.

Most important, it would impose limits on the number of marijuana businesses in the city, allowing about 135 dispensaries to remain open — those that were operating and registered under city laws in 2007 and that sought to re-register in 2011. Limits are essential. Even people who support easy access to medical cannabis can see that there need to be rules and oversight, as with bars and liquor stores. But resources are limited, and the city can’t police an infinite number of establishments.

Measure D is backed by both mayoral candidates and the current city attorney and his challenger. It applies to any organization of four or more people who cultivate, process, distribute or give away medical marijuana. It hikes the gross receipts tax on their operations — to $60 per $1,000 of gross receipts — and establishes the distances they must keep from schools, parks, one another and residential neighborhoods. It sets hours — they must be closed between 8 p.m. and 10 a.m. — prohibits the consumption of marijuana on the premises and requires background checks on managers, among other provisions.

It is far from perfect. For one thing, it is somewhat arbitrary. Why should a handful of dispensaries that got in under the wire in 2007 be the ones that now get to stay open? There’s no reason to think those particular establishments are more responsible than any other. For another, if it is passed, the city will be required to close hundreds of existing dispensaries, which could prove difficult, legally and practically. Here’s another thing: Measure D doesn’t create a process for a new dispensary to open when one of the 135 closes; that seems like an unfortunate oversight. And it would be far better if the measure could be amended or repealed by the City Council without requiring an additional vote of the people. But it cannot.

Still, Measure D is the best of the bunch.

Measure F, by contrast, sets no limits. It includes some strong rules and protections — in some cases stronger than those in D. But the city simply can’t sustain an unlimited number of dispensaries. Supporters of F say there would be de facto limits as a result of the requirements about how close dispensaries could be to schools, parks and one another, and that the final number would be in the hundreds. But what guarantee is there? Certainly nothing in the law.

As for Measure E — ignore it. That measure became moot after its supporters agreed to throw their support to Measure D.

No matter what you think of medical marijuana, it’s hard to deny that implementation of Proposition 215 has been unsuccessful. The Legislature and the state attorney general’s office were late to offer much-needed guidance. The federal government sent mixed messages about what it would or would not tolerate. The city of Los Angeles has flailed around, trying and failing to devise a workable set of rules.

Even if Measure D passes, there will still be no way to ensure that medical marijuana goes only to the sick people who are entitled to it, or that the product being sold is safe and untainted. Moreover, there will still be no resolution to the ongoing conflict between state and federal law. Perhaps one day the U.S. government will decide that marijuana should no longer be a Schedule I controlled substance, which means it has no medical use and is as dangerous as heroin. If that happens, perhaps the Food and Drug Administration will regulate it, doctors across the country will be able to prescribe it for patients they believe need it, and pharmacies will be able to provide it, just as they do with other medicines.

Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Published: May 10, 2013
Copyright: 2013 Los Angeles Times
Contact: letters@latimes.com
Website: http://www.latimes.com/

Medical Marijuana Dispensary Bans Upheld By High Court

May 8th, 2013

California Supreme Court Rules Cities and Counties Can Use Zoning to Ban Pot Shops

The state Supreme Court decisively ruled Monday that cities and counties have the right to ban medical marijuana dispensaries from operating within their territory, but leading activists say their fight for easy access is not over.

“This is pretty much the end of the road, unless the state Legislature changes how much it allows the city to regulate,” said J.  David Nick, who argued the dispensaries’ position in front of the high court and represents a few dispensaries in the Coachella Valley.  He does not anticipate any sort of appeal.  “You’re going to see some very specific legislation to address the decision of the court.”

The Supreme Court ruled 7-0 in favor of Riverside, which took the Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center to court after it opened in defiance of that city’s ordinance banning dispensaries in 2009.

Since first filing a complaint the following year, Riverside has prevailed at the trial and appellate levels, but judges across the state have been handing down contradictory opinions on whether local governments could outlaw storefront dispensaries under California’s 1996 voter-approved medical marijuana act, the nation’s first.

The decision written by Justice Marvin.  R.  Baxter says nothing in the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 or the Medical Marijuana Program adopted by the state in 2004 overrode cities’ and counties’ zoning power, up to and including prohibition of storefront pot shops.

“Of course, nothing prevents future efforts by the Legislature, or by the People, to adopt a different approach,” the 38-page opinion concluded.  “In the meantime, however, we must conclude that Riverside’s ordinances are not preempted by state law.” A concurring opinion was submitted by Justice Goodwin Liu.

Lanny Swerdlow of Whitewater has been a longtime medical marijuana activist in the Coachella Valley, and is the founder and a board member of the Inland Empire dispensary at the heart of the Supreme Court case.  He agreed the fight now must return to the public arena, particularly the Legislature.

“We’re going to have to get better organized and work with our legislators to get new bills passed, because the courts have told us that the collective idea the Legislature came up with isn’t going to work,” he said.

That process has already started, he said, with one bill putting medical marijuana regulation under the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

Attorney Joseph Rhea, who represents open and closed dispensaries in Palm Springs, plus the shuttered Rancho Mirage Safe Access Wellness Center, said the open shops he represents will now close.

“I think the lawyers have done what they can here,” Rhea said.

Rancho Mirage City Attorney Steve Quintanilla said the ruling appears to reach beyond the issue of dispensaries by indicating there’s nothing in state law to stop cities from barring medical marijuana collectives and cooperatives, even if they distribute the drug to members without a storefront, as well as any kind of cultivation.

“I read the the part about collectives and thought, wow, they’re going farther than I thought,” he said.  “Then I saw the section about cultivation and said, ‘Oh my God, they’re going even farther.’ ” He would not advise any of his cities to go that far, he said.

Rancho Mirage was the Coachella Valley city most affected by the crossfire of conflicting opinion on the issue, with its dispensary ban ruled invalid by a Riverside County Superior Court judge in 2011.  The city appealed the ruling, which had been on hold since the Supreme Court first agreed to hear the Riverside case in January 2012.

Quintanilla, also the city attorney for Desert Hot Springs and deputy city attorney for Cathedral City, said the decision settles seven lawsuits pitting his cities against dispensaries trying to set up shop.

Palm Springs is the only city in Riverside County that allows limited dispensary operations.  It holds the cap for such businesses to three, with plans to offer a fourth permit on hold.

The Supreme Court decision validates its efforts to close down more than a dozen illegal shops over the past several months, said City Attorney Doug Holland.

Since December, the city has been trying to close those collectives operating without a license by issuing them notices and fines for thousands of dollars.

So far, 12 dispensaries have closed.  The city, though, is still battling with five operators – four of which have either preliminary or permanent injunction orders to close.  The city has a court hearing soon on the fifth dispensary.

“We feel very confident that, based on the Supreme Court decision, there’s no room for these dispensaries …  to argue that they have any right,” Holland said.

The argument used by illegal dispensaries is that state law – which allows the use of marijuana to people with a doctor’s prescription – pre-empts local law and gives them the ability to operate.

“The Supreme Court clearly said, ‘No, that’s not the case,’ ” Holland said.

The city will continue trying to close the remaining five, he said, which could eventually come to criminal charges if civil methods don’t work.

“Now we will also be looking at pushing our criminal remedies, which could be, in addition to fines, it could be jail time,” said Holland.

“These are guys that somehow seem to think they are above the law.  The Supreme Court says, ‘No, they are not,’ ” he said.

According to the Weed-Maps.com website that shows dispensary locations across the valley, there are fewer dispensaries listed than a few months ago, but more delivery services.

The city is currently addressing only “bricks and mortar” operations, Holland said.

But he added that the district attorney and local law enforcement agencies could eventually decide to look at whether the delivery operations are being consistent with the Compassionate Use Act.

Julie Smith is a volunteer at C.C.O.C, one of the illegal dispensaries still open in Palm Springs.  She said she didn’t have a problem with the court’s ruling because the decision should be made by individual cities, maybe through a vote of the people.

But there’s already a shortage of legal dispensaries between local bans and federal crackdowns, she said, which has helped C.C.O.C.’s membership grow to about 3,000.

“We’ve got people coming in from Riverside, Blythe, Arizona, San Diego, because all the ones in San Diego are being shut down,” she said.

C.C.O.C., 650 S.  Oleander Road, is fighting Palm Springs’ efforts to close them down because “the city isn’t being responsible with how they’ve decided which stores do get the permit and those that don’t,” she said.

The city is choosing dispensaries in a way that lowers competition and increases prices, she said.

There is nothing in the court’s ruling stopping cities from allowing dispensaries to come in, and while the legal pressure has been on Cathedral City and Rancho Mirage recently, new slates of city council members have come in to cities farther east.

Indio Mayor Elaine Holmes said she’s never dealt with the issue in her 21/2 years on the council, though she remembers the issue being discussed in City Hall before she was elected.

Before taking a stand for or against allowing dispensaries in the city, “I’d have to see it on a case-by-case basis,” she said.  “I’d need to know about the location, and a lot of other things.  But I try to keep an open mind.”

Palm Desert Mayor Jan Harnik was elected to that city’s council at about the same time, after the city dealt with a dispensary on El Paseo.

“If anyone can show me how medical marijuana helps people who are really in pain, then I’m all for it,” she said.  “But in that case, it should be through a pharmacy.”

Marijuana’s status as a Schedule 1 drug under federal law, along with heroin and cocaine, makes that impossible.

Rick Pantele is a representative of C.A.P.S., one of the three legally permitted dispensaries in Palm Springs.  With the recent voter-approved legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington, he foresees the drug being legal nationwide in the next five to 10 years.

The momentum is headed that way, he said, even in California, “but this doesn’t help that at all,” he said.

Desert Sun reporter Xochitl Pena contributed.

Source: Desert Dispatch, The (Victorville, CA)
Copyright: 2013 Freedom Communications, Inc.
Contact: editorial@desertdispatch.com
Website: http://www.desertdispatch.com/
Author: Blake Herzog

N.H. Senate Panel Removes Home-Grow Option

May 8th, 2013

A Senate committee yesterday endorsed medical marijuana legislation that passed the House earlier this year, but removed a provision opposed by Gov. Maggie Hassan that would have allowed patients to grow their own cannabis.

Sen. Nancy Stiles, a Hampton Republican and chairwoman of the Senate Health, Education and Human Services Committee, said she met Monday with Hassan’s legal counsel, Lucy Hodder, and eliminated elements of the bill Hassan won’t support.

“I think the important thing in this process is to get legislation moved forward so that we can begin to help our citizens that are critically ill, and start out with a small process that can be expanded later on if we find that it’s not meeting all of the needs,” Stiles said.

After an hour of discussion, the committee voted, 5-0, to recommend the full Senate pass the amended bill, which would allow seriously ill or terminal patients with cancer and other specified conditions to acquire marijuana from special dispensaries to treat symptoms including pain and weight loss.

The bill next heads to the Senate floor for a vote.

Medical marijuana advocates are unhappy with the removal of the home-grow option. Matt Simon, a lobbyist for the Marijuana Policy Project, said dispensaries could take at least two years to get up and running, and New Hampshire patients in the meantime would be left without a legal option to acquire marijuana.

Simon said supporters are open to some sort of compromise, such as attaching a “sunset” clause to a home-grow option that would repeal it after three years.

“That is the sticking point, politically, in this bill,” Simon said. “Let’s let patients grow their own for two or three years while dispensaries can get up and running.”

But Rep. Donna Schlachman, an Exeter Democrat and the legislation’s prime sponsor, said supporters don’t want to scuttle the bill even if they don’t like everything in the final version.

“We know we’re going to pass something,” she told reporters following the committee’s vote yesterday. “Right now, our biggest concern is whether we’re passing something that meets the needs of patients immediately who . . . have been waiting a long time for legal access to something that is critically important to their health and well-being, given the medical challenges that they face.”

Hassan’s spokesman, Marc Goldberg, said the Senate committee’s changes “represent significant improvements and help address the governor’s concerns” about the bill as it was approved March 20 by the House on a 286-64 vote.

He didn’t rule out additional changes.

“Gov. Hassan looks forward to continuing the dialogue with legislators and all stakeholders as the legislation moves forward, and she is always willing to listen to constructive ideas, while keeping in mind the goal of appropriately regulated use of medical marijuana with controlled dispensing,” Goldberg said.

Bill Tightened

The Senate committee yesterday made a number of changes to the bill, in addition to eliminating the home-grow option. Among other things, the panel:

*  Eliminated post-traumatic stress disorder from the list of conditions making a patient eligible for marijuana use.

*  Added a requirement that patients get written permission from a property owner before using marijuana on privately owned land.

*  Reduced the maximum number of marijuana dispensaries, called “alternative treatment centers,” from five to four.

*  Required the alternative treatment centers to obtain liability insurance.

*  Limited the bill’s provision for an “affirmative defense” in court against marijuana-related charges to patients with a valid state-issued registry card or their card-issued designated caregivers.

“This is very tight and very regulated,” said Sen. Molly Kelly, a Keene Democrat.

Assuming the bill passes the Senate in its current form, Schlachman said negotiators from the House and Senate will hammer out a final version in a committee of conference.

“We will definitely provide something that the governor can support,” she said.

Medical marijuana bills have passed the Legislature twice in the last four years, but both times were vetoed by then-Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat.

By contrast, Hassan, also a Democrat, supports enacting a medical marijuana law in New Hampshire.

“I want to emphasize how grateful I am to have a governor who has gone on record in support of the use of therapeutic cannabis. I think that’s critically important,” Schlachman said.

Eighteen states plus the District of Columbia have legalized the medical use of marijuana since 1996, including the other five New England states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Source: Concord Monitor (NH)
Author: Ben Leubsdorf, Monitor Staff
Published: May 7, 2012
Copyright: 2013 Monitor Publishing Company
Contact: letters@cmonitor.com
Website: http://www.concordmonitor.com

Some Dispensaries Not Too Thrilled By Legal Pot

May 1st, 2013

Medical marijuana groups are wary of a bill that would legalize and tax marijuana in Maine.

Estimates nationwide suggest if marijuana were legal, much of the profit gained by medical retailers and black-market criminals would disappear.

That worries Glenn Peterson, the owner of Canuvo, a Biddeford medical-marijuana dispensary.  He also serves as president of the Maine Association of Dispensary Operators, a trade group made up of five Maine dispensary owners.

Peterson said his group is concerned that the bill could “eliminate the medical marijuana industry” in Maine.

“I tend to be libertarian,” he said.  “On the other hand, I am quite protective of my dispensary.”

Paul McCarrier, a lobbyist for Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine, an advocacy group for state-licensed caregivers who grow marijuana for small groups of medical patients, said his group is opposing the bill.  McCarrier said it would favor dispensaries through licensing requirements, which could regulate small-time growers out of existence.

“The scope of protections for the individual to cultivate for themselves is too limited,” he said.

The head of a national group that has supported the Maine bill and similar proposals nationwide says his organization has run into opposition to legalization from medical-marijuana groups in other states.

Allen St.  Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML, said that “probably the most vexing thing that we’re facing right now ( in pushing for legalization ) is not the government or law enforcement agencies,” he said.  “It comes from, oddly put, anti-prohibitionists versus anti-prohibitionists.”

The Maine bill to legalize marijuana, sponsored by Rep.  Diane Russell, D-Portland, is a sweeping measure.  Chiefly, it would allow those 21 and older to possess 21/2 ounces of marijuana and six plants.

It also would license cultivators, producers of products containing marijuana, retailers and laboratories, giving preference for licensing to officials at existing dispensaries.

David Boyer, Maine political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, a nationwide group backing Russell’s bill, said the provision to give preference to existing dispensaries was partially due to a drafting error in the bill, and he and Russell are open to amending it.  Boyer has been lobbying legislators to support the bill.

Peterson said his group is lobbying for dispensaries to be granted automatic cultivation, retail and production licenses.  He said it wouldn’t oppose the bill then.

McCarrier said it isn’t clear whether caregivers are on the same plane as dispensaries in the bill.

Russell’s bill would assess a $50-per-ounce tax on cultivators, 75 percent of which Russell has said she wants to divert to the state’s General Fund.  Under her plan, the rest would go toward substance abuse programs, marijuana research and implementing the act.

Only two states, Colorado and Washington, have legalized marijuana, and they did so in 2012 referendum votes.  Marijuana possession is illegal under federal law, so even states with medical-marijuana programs are running afoul of that law.

In those states and others, legalization efforts ran into patches of opposition from medical-marijuana groups as well.

St.  Pierre suggested that’s because of economic protectionism: Simply put, when marijuana becomes legal, consumption will go up and prices will fall sharply.

McCarrier said it’s not about protecting money, but protecting “the ability for caregivers to continue to operate.”

Peterson said he sells marijuana for $360 per ounce; McCarrier said caregivers sell for between $175 and $250 per ounce.  Street prices could be higher or lower.

A paper by a group of marijuana researchers published this month in the Oregon Law Review says the American marijuana market is a $30 billion industry annually.  But modern farming techniques could supply that demand for “hundreds of millions of dollars.”

So, the paper says, most of those billions could be captured by businesses or states, but “only if competitive pressure does not drive prices down.”

Peterson said he has hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in his operation, and he’s not sure what would happen to it under legalization.

“I have no investors.  I don’t take a salary,” he said.  “But that’s what you have to do to have a program in this state.”

Medical marijuana wouldn’t be taxed at $50 an ounce, according to Russell’s proposal, and Boyer said he doesn’t want to affect the medical system “in any bad way.”

Still, “it’s kind of an evil trade-off,” Peterson said of the tax on recreational marijuana.  “You can have it legally, but it’s going to cost you.” Russell has said the price drop after legalization would more than make up for the tax.

On taxes, a fine line would have to be walked to turn the average consumer to the new, recreational market.  If the marijuana tax is too high, people will likely seek the black market or a doctor’s recommendation for patient status, say many working on tax proposals in other states.

Colorado and Washington are establishing regulations for their legal programs.  They are seeking to establish a tax system that strikes those balances.

According to The New York Times, Colorado is considering excise and sales taxes of up to 30 percent combined on recreational marijuana.  In Washington state, the Times said three levels of taxes will be levied on producers, processors and retailers.  Consumers will pay a 44 percent effective rate.

The $50-per-ounce rate has been discussed in other places.  California considered a bill that would use that rate in 2009, and lawmakers effectively killed it in 2010.

Beau Kilmer, a drug policy researcher for the RAND Corp., a nonprofit think tank, said there are a number of ways that regulators could tax marijuana, including per ounce and by the plant’s chemical makeup.

However, it’s too early to tell what would work best, so Kilmer suggests flexibility in the tax system.

“If large barriers are created to changing the taxes, it’s going to make it a heck of a lot harder to update them based on new research,” he said.

That lack of clarity makes Boyer, of the Marijuana Policy Project, wonder why some are opposing Russell’s bill so soon, before a legislative committee gets to amend it.

“I’m a little disappointed that some people are jumping the gun on this bill before it’s a final bill,” Boyer said.  “I think everyone would benefit from ending marijuana prohibition.”

McCarrier said that philosophically, he could support legalization, but “the devil’s in the details.”

Peterson also said he could support the right plan, but “I would not want to do anything that disrupted the medical side of things.  It really puts a death knell to the program.”

For St.  Pierre, the NORML director, the schism is particularly divisive for the overarching cause of his group for years — totally legal marijuana.

“For me, it is a necessary but fascinating footnote in history that some of the most active opposition is oddly coming from those who are fellow travelers of the road, shall we say — those who enjoy and use marijuana, be it for medical reasons or recreational,” he said.

Source: Morning Sentinel (Waterville, ME)
Copyright: 2013 MaineToday Media, Inc.
Website: http://www.onlinesentinel.com/
Author: Michael Shepherd

Bill Introduced in Congress Would Fix MMJ Conflict

April 12th, 2013

3666020972_4c820bb9c1 A bill introduced in Congress on Friday would fix the conflict between the federal government’s marijuana prohibition and state laws that allow medical or recreational use.

California Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher said his bill, which has three Republican and three Democratic sponsors, would assure that state laws on pot are respected by the feds.

The measure would amend the Controlled Substances Act to make clear that individuals and businesses, including marijuana dispensaries, who comply with state marijuana laws are immune from federal prosecution.

“This bipartisan bill represents a common-sense approach that establishes federal government respect for all states’ marijuana laws,” Rohrabacher said in a news release. “It does so by keeping the federal government out of the business of criminalizing marijuana activities in states that don’t want it to be criminal.”

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have medical marijuana laws, and two states, Washington and Colorado, last fall became the first to pass laws legalizing, taxing and regulating marijuana.

The U.S. Justice Department has not said how it intends to respond to the Washington and Colorado votes. It could sue to block legal pot sales from ever happening, on the grounds they conflict with federal law.

President Barack Obama has said going after marijuana users in states where it’s legal is not a priority. But the administration has raided some medical marijuana dispensaries it sees as little more than fronts for commercial marijuana sales.

Several other measures have also been introduced to change U.S. marijuana laws, including moves to legalize the industrial production of hemp and establish a hefty federal pot tax in states where it’s legal. Any changes this year are considered a longshot.

Republican Reps. Justin Amash of Michigan and Don Young of Alaska and Democratic Reps. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, Steve Cohen of Tennessee and Jared Polis of Colorado co-sponsored Rohrabacher’s bill.

Source: Associated Press (Wire)
Author: Gene Johnson, The Associated Press
Published: April 12, 2013
Copyright: 2013 The Associated Press

Should Medical Marijuana Be State Or Federally

October 29th, 2012

Federal authorities closed a number of medical marijuana dispensaries throughout Downtown Los Angeles in September as part of an effort to cut down on the sale and use of the drug, which is legal in California for medical purposes but still considered illegal by the federal government.

This month, the Drug Enforcement Administration followed up by sending warning letters and revisiting several dispensaries. This series of shutdowns was not only unnecessary, but it was also a violation of state rights and an indication of broken promises on the part of President Barack Obama. As marijuana regulation is becoming a hot button issue in the presidential race, such an infringement on an individual state’s rights is unacceptable.

Given the size and scope of the federal crackdown operation — it began in San Diego and recently spread to Los Angeles — it’s obvious that significant planning went into these raids. Obama deliberately went back on his word and has been doing so for a long time. This is an unusual move so close to the election but, more importantly, it challenges the legitimacy of California’s laws.

Whether or not a state allows the sale of medical marijuana, the fact remains that marijuana is federally illegal, so it would seem the owners of dispensaries should have known the risks associated with their businesses. They thought, however, that under the Obama administration they could operate without having to worry about being shut down because of early campaign promises.

Beyond broken campaign promises, however, the crackdown signals a disconnect between state and federal government and also raises a larger issue on state rights. The federal government took advantage of the disconnect between California and the federal government to fine and shut down target dispensaries. This is more than just a backward step in the legalization debate, it’s a disregard for the rights of individual states and offers a critical example of overbearing federal power. To maintain a better balance between federal and state, medical marijuana regulation must be returned to states’ control.

The issue of medical marijuana has largely been ignored in the 2012 presidential election, and understandably so. Federal versus state control of medical marijuana has no bearing on the United States’ global standing or on foreign policy matters. And while marijuana’s legalization generates substantial tax revenue, there are far bigger fish to fry when it comes to solving the nation’s deficit. All in all, medical marijuana might be a hotly debated topic, but it isn’t a particularly significant one in terms of impact. For the federal government to waste time, energy and money on medical marijuana enforcement is simply inefficient. By allowing states to control the regulation of their own medical marijuana dispensaries, the time and money the federal government is currently wasting can be re-directed somewhere much more worthwhile.

If the federal government took over the regulation of marijuana dispensaries, not only would its leadership be inefficient, it would potentially take away jobs from those who own legitimate, legal dispensaries. For every illegally run collective, it’s important to remember there is a legitimate non-profit organization that employs Americans and provides free marijuana to patients who can’t afford it but need it for actual medical purposes.

We need the government to be effective and consistent. The global society and economy is at a point where America will be in a very dangerous position if some important issues are not dealt with directly and in a consistent manner. Especially considering that medical marijuana is much less consequential than many other issues currently facing the federal government, wasting resources to take away states’ rights is something the government can’t afford to be doing.

- – Burke Gibson is a sophomore majoring in economics and is the Daily Trojan’s Chief Copy Editor.

While the nation’s attention remains fixated on the upcoming Nov. 6 election, the Drug Enforcement Administration has been systematically cracking down on medical marijuana operations across California, most recently in Los Angeles — even though such operations are 100 percent legal statewide. But marijuana is still federally classified as an illegal drug, and President Barack Obama’s administration has been making renewed efforts to enforce federal law, however much they conflict with state and individual rights.

This begs the question: Should medical marijuana be regulated on a federal or state level?

Because marijuana in its legal form is a health benefit, no state should have the authority to take that away. The current administration’s crackdowns are not the right way to regulate, but they are right to take action when state regulation is not working. Medical marijuana must be federally regulated to ensure that medical access is provided for all who need it, regardless of what state they live in.

In 1970, marijuana was categorized by the government in 1970 as a Schedule I drug. Schedule I drugs must meet three conditions to be labeled as such: the drug has a high potential for abuse, has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States and has a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision. Despite research that has proven all three of these conditions to be false, marijuana remains an illegal drug within the Schedule I category.

Medical marijuana, however, is legal in 17 states, including California, and measures proposing some level of legalization are currently pending in six others. The state legalization movement is growing fast, and as it does, so is the tension between the conflicting doctrines in state and federal regulation of the drug. This tension only contributes to further problems for everyone involved — business owners, medical patients and President Barack Obama himself, whose Daily Beast-dubbed “war on weed” might be angering some of his supporters. Having different laws in different states on the legality of a substance that is ridiculously easy to transport only creates chaos in the legal system and distracts from the fact that this is an issue about medical access and benefits, not governmental powers.

Federal regulation is opposed by those who see medical marijuana as a state issue that should be dealt with at a local, specific level. Nearly 1 million patients nationwide depend on medical marijuana for their health and are in accordance with state laws, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Marijuana has been proven to provide relief for serious conditions such as cancer or AIDS — relief that has not been reproduced by any other drug or medicine. So what about cancer or AIDS patients who live in the 27 states where medical marijuana remains illegal?

Should they bide their time until a ballot measure passes? Especially in incredibly conservative states, the likelihood of such a measure passing is small, considering Proposition 19 didn’t pass in liberal California in 2010. State efforts, as the past couple years have demonstrated, take too long to succeed and do not guarantee the results that patients in need deserve.

Though no debate over the regulation of marijuana can ignore the rampant recreational use and illegal sale and purchase of the drug, regulation must be re-framed as a medical issue. Medical marijuana is a health benefit that all Americans should be able to take advantage of if they need to do so — and federal regulation would guarantee that.

The current federal administration, however, has failed to acknowledge that. The DEA’s recent efforts to mend the gap between state and federal government are wrong and only perpetuate inconsistency and conflict. Raids, crackdowns, warning letters and the like are not the answer. It will take a change at the federal, not the state level, to effectively ensure safe and guaranteed use of medical marijuana for Americans in all states.

- – Elena Kadvany is a senior majoring in Spanish and is the Daily Trojan’s Editorial Director. Point/Counterpoint runs Fridays.

Source: Daily Trojan (U of Southern CA Edu)
Copyright: 2012 Daily Trojan
Contact: letters@dailytrojan.com
Website: http://www.dailytrojan.com/
Authors: Burke Gibson and Elena Kadvany

Marijuana Only for the Sick?

October 8th, 2012

One year after federal law enforcement officials began cracking down on California’s medical marijuana industry with a series of high-profile arrests around the state, they finally moved into Los Angeles last month, giving 71 dispensaries until Tuesday to shut down.

At the same time, because of a well-organized push by a new coalition of medical marijuana supporters, the City Council last week repealed a ban on the dispensaries that it had passed only a couple of months earlier.

Despite years of trying fruitlessly to regulate medical marijuana, California again finds itself in a marijuana-laced chaos over a booming and divisive industry.

Nobody even knows how many medical marijuana dispensaries are in Los Angeles. Estimates range from 500 to more than 1,000. The only certainty, supporters and opponents agree, is that they far outnumber Starbucks.

“That’s the ongoing, ‘Alice in Wonderland’ circus of L.A.,” said Michael Larsen, president of the Neighborhood Council in Eagle Rock, a middle-class community that has 15 dispensaries within a one-and-a-half-mile radius of the main commercial area, many of them near houses. “People here are desperate, and there’s nothing they can do.”

Though the neighborhood’s dispensaries were among those ordered to close by Tuesday, many are still operating. As he looked at a young man who bounded out of the Together for Change dispensary on Thursday morning, Mr. Larsen said, “I’m going to go out on a limb, but that’s not a cancer patient.”

In the biggest push against medical marijuana since California legalized it in 1996, the federal authorities have shut at least 600 dispensaries statewide since last October. California’s four United States attorneys said the dispensaries violated not only federal law, which considers all possession and distribution of marijuana to be illegal, but state law, which requires operators to be nonprofit primary caregivers to their patients and to distribute marijuana strictly for medical purposes.

While announcing the actions against the 71 dispensaries, André Birotte Jr., the United States attorney for the Central District of California, indicated that it was only the beginning of his campaign in Los Angeles. Prosecutors filed asset forfeiture lawsuits against three dispensaries and sent letters warning of criminal charges to the operators and landlords of 68 others, a strategy that has closed nearly 97 percent of the targeted dispensaries elsewhere in the district, said Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the United States attorney.

Vague state laws governing medical marijuana have allowed recreational users of the drug to take advantage of the dispensaries, say supporters of the Los Angeles ban and the federal crackdown. Here on the boardwalk of Venice Beach, pitchmen dressed all in marijuana green approach passers-by with offers of a $35, 10-minute evaluation for a medical marijuana recommendation for everything from cancer to appetite loss.

Nearly 180 cities across the state have banned dispensaries, and lawsuits challenging the bans have reached the State Supreme Court. In more liberal areas, some 50 municipalities have passed medical marijuana ordinances, but most have suspended the regulation of dispensaries because of the federal offensive, according to Americans for Safe Access, a group that promotes access to medical marijuana. San Francisco and Oakland, the fiercest defenders of medical marijuana, have continued to issue permits to new dispensaries.

In 2004, shortly after the state effectively allowed the opening of storefront dispensaries, there were only three or four in Los Angeles, experts said. The number soon swelled into the hundreds before the city imposed a moratorium. But dispensaries continued to proliferate by exploiting a loophole in the moratorium even as lawsuits restricted the city’s ability to pass an ordinance. Over the summer, the City Council voted to ban dispensaries.

Anticipating the ban, the medical marijuana industry “that historically had not worked together very well” began organizing a counterattack, said Dan Rush, an official with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which formed a coalition with Americans for Safe Access and the Greater Los Angeles Collective Alliance, a group of dispensary owners. The coalition raised $250,000, mostly from dispensaries, to gather the signatures necessary to place a referendum to overturn the ban on the ballot next March, said Don Duncan, California director for Americans for Safe Access.

Instead of allowing the referendum to proceed in March, when elections for mayor and City Council seats will also be held, the council on Tuesday voted to simply rescind the ban. José Huizar, one of only two council members to vote against the repeal, and the strongest backer of the ban, said the city was not in a position to fight an increasingly well-organized industry.

Mr. Huizar said California’s medical marijuana laws, considered the nation’s weakest, must be changed to better control the production and distribution of marijuana, as well as limit access to only real patients.

“Unless that happens, local cities are going to continue to play the cat-and-mouse game with the dispensaries,” he said, adding that the industry had fought attempts here to regulate it. “These are folks who are just out to protect their profits, and they do that by having as little regulation or oversight as possible by the City of Los Angeles.”

But coalition officials say they favor stricter regulations here.Rigo Valdez, director of organizing for the local union, which represents 500 dispensary workers in Los Angeles, said he would support an ordinance restricting the number of dispensaries to about 125 and keeping them away from schools and one another.

“We would be able to respect communities by staying away from sensitive-use areas while providing safe access for medical marijuana patients,” he said.

Such an ordinance would shut down many dispensaries catering to recreational users, said Yamileth Bolanos, president of the Greater Los Angeles Collective Alliance and owner of a dispensary, the PureLife Alternative Wellness Center. “I felt we needed a medical situation with respect, not with all kinds of music going, tattoos and piercings in the face,” she said. “We’re normal people. Normal patients can come and acquire medicine.”

But the hundreds of dispensaries that would be put out of business will fight the federal crackdown, as some are already doing.

In downtown Los Angeles, where most of the dispensaries were included in the order to close, workers were renovating the storefront of the Downtown Collective. Inside, house music was being played in a lobby decorated to conjure “Scarface,” a poster of which hung on a wall.

“We don’t worry about this,” the manager said of the federal offensive, declining to give his name. “It’s between the lawyers.”

David Welch, a lawyer who is representing 15 of the 71 dispensaries and who is involved in a lawsuit challenging a ban at the State Supreme Court, said the federal clampdown would fail.

“Medical marijuana dispensaries are very much like what they distribute: they’re weeds,” he said. “You cut them down, you leave, and then they sprout back up.”

A version of this article appeared in print on October 8, 2012, on page A16 of the New York edition with the headline: Marijuana Only for the Sick? A Farce, Some in Los Angeles Say.

Source: New York Times (NY)
Author: Norimitsu Onishi
Published: October 8, 2012
Copyright: 2012 The New York Times Company
Contact: letters@nytimes.com
Website: http://www.nytimes.com/

L.A. To Repeal Ban on Medical Marijuana Shops

October 3rd, 2012

The Los Angeles City Council voted to rescind a newly enacted ban on storefront medical marijuana shops on Tuesday, allowing the city to avoid a referendum next year that some officials said would likely succeed in reversing the prohibition.

The council, in a blow to an industry that operates in violation of federal law, voted in July to ban pot dispensaries and replace them with a system that would allow up to three patients to collectively grow marijuana.

But medical marijuana advocates collected in August the necessary 27,425 valid signatures to put the decision to a March 2013 referendum. Under city rules, that number of signatures – 10 percent of the total number of votes cast in the city’s last mayoral election – put the ban on hold until the vote.

The backtracking comes a week after federal authorities moved to close about 70 such dispensaries in the city in a renewed effort to crack down on the operations through the use of asset-forfeiture lawsuits and warning letters.

“Legally it appears that almost nothing we do is a surefire approach,” City Councilman Paul Koretz said during the meeting on Tuesday.

“But I think the surefire least positive approach is to have a ban, but have it on hold … have it fail in March and basically be back where we started,” said Koretz, who voted in favor of repeal.

Pot remains illegal under federal law, but 17 states and the District of Columbia allow it as medicine. Los Angeles has between about 500 and 1,000 medical marijuana dispensaries, more than any other city in the nation.

Medical marijuana in California, which in 1996 became the first state to allow it, is used to treat everything from cancer to anxiety, and many police officials complain recreational users are taking advantage of the system.

The Los Angeles City Council’s decision to repeal the dispensary ban must return for a second vote next week because the 11-2 vote was not a unanimous one.

Separately, the council approved a resolution asking the state Legislature to give municipalities clear guidelines on how to regulate the distribution of medical marijuana.

Councilman Mitchell Englander complained that many badly run dispensaries in the city have “ruined it” for a minority of storefronts that are truly helping patients.

City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who has cancer and diabetes and has taken medical marijuana, made an impassioned plea during the meeting for allowing a limited number of dispensaries.

“Where does anybody go, even a councilman go, to get his medical marijuana?,” Rosendahl said in a hoarse voice, moments after revealing that doctors told him he might not have “much time to live.”

Reporting By Alex Dobuzinskis; editing by Todd Eastham and Cynthia Johnston

Source: Reuters (Wire)
Author: Alex Dobuzinskis, Reuters
Published: October 2, 2012
Copyright: 2012 Thomson Reuters