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Medical Marijuana Update

What!? No DEA raids? Not this week, but the federal crackdown on dispensaries continues, and cities and localities in medical marijuana states continue to grapple with the issues around it. Let's get to it:

Arizona

Last Tuesday, 13 county attorneys urged Gov. Jan Brewer (R) to halt the state's medical marijuana program, citing fears that state employees could be charged with facilitating federal crimes when they issue licenses to dispensaries. They signed onto a letter authored by Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, who requests that the governor prevent the state's issuance of licenses for medical-marijuana dispensaries because the state program is preempted by the federal Controlled Substances Act. Brewer responded two days later, saying she understands and shares the concerns of the prosecutors, but that she is bound to implement the law because voters approved it.

California

Last Tuesday, Sutter County supervisors rejected a proposed cultivation ordinance on a 3-2 vote. Supervisors said they had too many concerns about unintended consequences, including how it could be seen as the county giving tacit approval to marijuana growing. The ordinance would have limited outdoor grows to parcels at least 20 acres in size, with only 12 mature plants. Grows on fewer than 20 acres would have had to have been done indoors or in greenhouses.

Last Wednesday, the Solana Beach City Council voted to put a dispensary initiative on the November ballot. The initiative is similar to ones submitted by proponents in four other San Diego County cities -- Del Mar, Encinitas, Lemon Grove and La Mesa. Last week, Del Mar's council became the first of the four to agree to put the measure on the November ballot. It would create a set of regulations for medical marijuana dispensaries, including where they could locate and when they could be open. The operating hours would be limited to 8:00am to 10:00pm, and dispensaries couldn't locate within 600 feet of a school or a playground. If a prospective dispensary meets these restrictions, it could qualify for a city permit allowing it to open.

Last Thursday, a patient cooperative sued the city of Ventura after it was denied a business license to open a dispensary there. The Shangri La Care Cooperative filed a complaint in county superior court claiming the city has an "unwritten de facto ban on medical marijuana dispensaries" after the city denied its business license application last August, claiming "the request to open a medical marijuana dispensary does not appear to fall within any of the existing use types classified by the city’s zoning ordinance." But the location where Shangri La wants to open is zoned for medical and retail services. While the city says there is an administrative remedy -- applying for a conditional use permit -- Shangri La argues that it doesn't need a conditional use permit and that it doesn’t believe the city will grant one.

Last Friday, a Lake County judge indicated he would grant a temporary restraining order in a lawsuit challenging the county's marijuana cultivation urgency ordinance. Lake County Superior Court Judge David Herrick said the order would apply only to the plaintiffs in the case, which include Don Merrill and several other medical marijuana users identified as "Doe." Herrick will make a final determination on the order on August 15 after hearing additional arguments. The order would block the county from enforcing a 45-day urgency ordinance establishing regulations for marijuana growth, including where cultivation could occur and the number of plants allowed. That ordinance was passed July 9.

On Tuesday, San Diego activists hoaxed US Attorney Laura Duffy by issuing a statement purporting to be from her office in which she vowed to take her offensive against dispensaries to the next level by going after pharmacies. The fake news release used language similar to that used by Duffy in her campaign against dispensaries and fooled at least some local media outlets before the San Diego chapter of Americans for Safe Access revealed themselves as the authors of the prank. Duffy was not amused and is looking to see if any federal laws were violated.

Also on Tuesday, Butte County supervisors moved closer to an outdoor growing ban. The supes voted 3-2 to direct county staff to draft an ordinance similar to one in Kings County, which bans all outdoor cultivation of medical marijuana. The only medical marijuana growth allowed under the Kings County ordinance is for personal use by qualified patients within a locked and fully enclosed structure. County staff is expected to deliver the ordinance to the Board of Supervisors by the end of the month. The supervisors rejected an ordinance that would have allowed growers to cultivate between six and 99 mature marijuana plants based on the size of their plots.

Also on Tuesday, two San Francisco dispensaries closed their doors after threats from the feds. The Vapor Room and HopeNet both announced they would cease operations in response to threatening letters sent to the business' landlords by the federal government. Since November, the Justice Department has sent out 600 letters across California threatening landlords who rent space to medical marijuana operations. During that period, nine San Francisco dispensaries clubs have shut their doors, leaving the city with the lowest number of dispensaries in years.

On Wednesday, activists held a funeral march for the Vapor Room and Hope Net.

Colorado

Last Thursday, state officials released the most recent medical marijuana registry statistics. As of the end of May, there were nearly 99,000 registered patients in the state. The number peaked in July 2011 at nearly 129,000, but then dropped to under 81,000 by November as the feds turned up the heat on dispensaries in the state. The number has been slowing climbing again since then.

Maine

Last Thursday, health officials proposed new rules for the state's medical marijuana program. One key change would make optional a state identification system designed to keep track of patients who are enrolled in the program. The proposed new guidelines would also prevent police from seizing marijuana belonging to a patient, caregiver or dispensary unless the amount of the drug is over the legal limit for those groups or the seizure is linked to an ongoing criminal investigation.

Michigan

On Tuesday, the state Court of Appeals ruled that no Michigan municipality can use the federal Controlled Substances Act as an excuse to enact local ordinances that outlaw medical marijuana cannabis patients and caregivers from exercising their rights which currently exist under the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act. After the law was passed, several Detroit suburbs, including Livonia, Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills and Wyoming passed local ordinances barring patients from using medical marijuana in their communities and outlawing caregivers from operating within city boundaries. Now they've been told they can't do that. It's not clear whether they will appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Washington

On Monday, three Wenatchee-area dispensaries announced they had shut their doors after federal prosecutors sent threat letters to their landlords. The letter sent by Eastern Washington US Attorney Michael Ormsby threatened to seize the properties and threatened to fine or imprison the landlords if they did not close the shops within a few weeks. Three dispensaries closed immediately; a fourth is expected to close shortly.

Also on Monday, four collective employees were allowed to go into diversion programs after they were charged with marijuana possession and delivery for selling to patients at the Cannabis Outreach Service in Lacey and The Healing Center in Olympia. All four stipulated to selling marijuana, but if they complete the one-year program and avoid any subsequent criminal law violations, all felony charges against them will be dropped. All were initially charged with more than 20 felonies related to the possession, manufacture and distribution of marijuana. The charges came after the Thurston County Narcotics Task Force raided five medical marijuana collectives in Olympia on Nov. 15, including Cannabis Outreach Services and The Healing Center, and made 17 arrests. According to court papers, narcotics detectives obtained medical marijuana authorizations in their undercover names and purchased marijuana from all five of the medical marijuana collectives. Defendants from the three other Thurston County medical marijuana collectives still face pending criminal charges.

On Tuesday, the Tacoma City Council approved a collective cultivation ordinance that allows collective grows with some restrictions. It sets up a framework to abate, fine or otherwise crack down on those gardens that draw complaints or noticeably run afoul of a list of new restrictions. Among the new rules, the gardens can't operate within 600 feet -- about one city block -- of a school, daycare, drug rehabilitation center, park, library, or youth center. They also can't use signs to advertise the sale of cannabis; can't operate in the open; and can't permit entry to anyone under 18. Gardens that emanate noticeable odors into a public place or that have patients smoking marijuana in public also would be subject to city enforcement. The ordinance is harder on dispensaries; it defines them as public nuisances.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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