From California to the nation's capital, medical marijuana keeps making news. Here's the good, the bad, and the ugly:
Data from the Department of Health Services show that more than 22,200 Arizonans have received permission to use medical marijuana. People aged 31-50 make up 40% of medical marijuana users, those aged 51-81 account for 35%, and those aged 18-39 account for 25%. Nearly three-quarters are men, and the overwhelming majority of patients reported chronic pain as their medical condition, while muscle spasms were also high on the list, health officials reported. Other ailments include hepatitis C, cancer and seizures.
Last Wednesday, the city of Redding failed in its effort to force local dispensaries to close. A Shasta County Superior Court judge denied the city's request for a preliminary injunction that would have compelled their closure, saying that the city can't ban dispensaries simply by declaring them a nuisance. The judge relied heavily on a 4th District Court of Appeal decision in which the court struck down the city of Lake Forest's effort to ban dispensaries. That left Redding leaders scratching their heads the next day.
Also last Wednesday, the city of Oakland approved four new potential dispensaries. Only one of the four already has an approved location.The other three will be given four months to find a new location that satisfies city rules requiring dispensaries be located at least 600 feet from schools, parks and youth-serving programs. The city also approved one alternate dispensary group. Whether any of them actually open for business remains to be seen, given the ongoing federal crackdown in the state.
Also last Wednesday, the San Jose Cannabis Buyer's Collective announced that its challenge against its closure by the city of San Jose was revived by the Sixth District Court of Appeal, which ruled that a Santa Clara Superior Court judge erred in denying their petition for writ of mandate on the ground they failed to exhaust administrative remedies.
Last Thursday, the Berkeley Patients Group announced it would move from its current location but relocate elsewhere in Berkeley. The announcement came amid rumors the venerable and well-loved dispensary would close its doors after its landlord received a threat letter from the office of US Attorney for Northern California Melinda Haag.
Last Thursday, DEA agents raided a dispensary in Murrieta in Riverside County. They were accompanied by Murrieta Police as they hit the Greenhouse Cannabis Club and seized three pounds of marijuana, various edibles, and 18 clones. Two volunteers who were present during the raid said at least a dozen federal agents and local police officers stormed into the nondescript Jefferson Avenue storefront with their rifles drawn. According to the 36-page affidavit filed with the court in support of the search warrants, an undercover federal agent in February was able to purchase a gram of medical marijuana for $20 at the club after presenting a medical marijuana card. Agents also received statements from card-holding patients that they had purchased medical marijuana at the club.
Also last Thursday, US Attorney for Northern California Melinda Haag did a wide-ranging interview with KQED. Among other things, she signaled a continuing crackdown on dispensaries near schools, playgrounds, or other places where children assemble.
On Tuesday, the city of San Francisco proposed banning hashish, edibles, and tinctures from city dispensaries. In a memo to dispensaries titled "Medical Cannabis Edibles Advisory," the Department of Public Health recommended that dispensaries "do not produce or dispense syrups, capsules, or other extracts that either required [sic] concentrating cannabis active ingredients or that requires a chemical production process." The city says it isn't a ban because there is no provision for enforcement, but dispensaries that want to play by the rules will have to abide. But on Wednesday, the city announced it had reversed its decision.
Also on Tuesday, word leaked out that San Francisco DA George Gascon's office has issued a memo saying all medical marijuana sales in the city are illegal. That would be a shocking policy change from Gascon's predecessors, Terence Hallinan and Kamala Harris, if it actually is a policy change. But there is some uncertainty about whether this marks a real shift or merely the use of boilerplate language by underlings. Stay tuned.
Also on Tuesday, a new medical marijuana initiative was approved for signature-gathering. Secretary of State Sandra Bowen's office announced that the Medical Marijuana Patient Associations initiative had been approved. It would allow patients to form associations to cultivate, process, and distribute medical marijuana and ensure that "neither the state nor any local government may prohibit operation of a medical marijuana patient association, including a storefront, unless a court finds it is an actual nuisance." Proponents have until August 16 to gather 504,000 valid voter signatures.
Last Thursday, Denver's 9 News reported that US Attorney John Walsh plans to demand that more dispensaries shut down because they are operating within 1,000 feet of a school. A spokesman declined to say how many more threat letters will go out, but said they will be sent "soon." An earlier round of threat letters to dispensaries and their landlords resulted in 22 closing their doors or relocating. The 1,000-foot rule is based on a federal criminal sentencing enhancement, not the state's medical marijuana law.
On Tuesday, an attorney for six Fort Collins dispensaries forced to close after a voter-approved ban said their lawsuit against the city is likely to be withdrawn. Attorney Brett Barney said the case is "on hold" and that dispensary owners may not want to throw good money after bad. "I advised my clients we were not going to get justice from this court," Barney said. A district court judge had earlier denied a temporary restraining, ruling that the dispensaries had not demonstrated their constitutional rights were violated or that they would suffer irreparable harm.
Also on Tuesday, US Attorney John Walsh sent a letter to Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett responding to Garnett's letter last week highly critical of federal interference in the operation of the state's medical marijuana law. In response, Walsh wrote that enforcing federal law to keep medical marijuana dispensaries away from schools is a "core responsibility" of federal prosecutors, and will continue.
The battle over medical marijuana bills in the legislature continues. On Monday, Eric Sterling of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation weighed in with a Baltimore Sun op-ed criticizing Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) for saying he would veto any medical marijuana bills because he is worried about state officials being treated like drug traffickers by the feds. Federal prosecutors don't have that power, Sterling argued, nor do federal drug laws prevent states from passing their own laws on medical marijuana or other drugs.
Also on Monday, patients flooded Annapolis in an effort to get lawmakers to act on pending medical marijuana bills. Delegates are working on amendments designed to assuage the fears of the governor and state officials.
On Tuesday, a bill that would remove glaucoma from the list of approved conditions for medical marijuana passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 3-0 vote. The bill was supported by several doctors and medical associations. The committee heard one University of Michigan ophthalmologist testify that while using marijuana might relieve pressure on the optic nerve for several hours, a person would have to smoke "3,000 marijuana cigarettes" to ease the condition around the clock. Patients objected, to no avail. Only about 500 of the state's 130,000 medical marijuana patients use it for glaucoma.
Last Tuesday, four dispensary operators pleaded guilty to federal drug charges that were filed after March 2011 DEA raids across the state. Aaron Durbing, 29, and Justin Maddock, 40, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to manufacture marijuana for their operation at Good Medicine Providers in Columbia Falls. Mark Siegler, 60, and Valerie Siegler, 38, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to manufacture, distribute, and possess marijuana for operating Big Sky Patient Care in Dillon, Big Sky, and Bozeman. Since the raids a year ago, the number of registered patients in the state has declined by more than half and the number the of registered providers has declined by more than 90%.
On Monday, the Marijuana Policy Project announced a statewide radio ad campaign calling on residents to urge their state senators to support SB 409, which would allow doctors to recommend marijuana to qualified patients suffering from cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, and other debilitating illnesses. The ad features a former Tuftonboro selectman, Ted Wright, whose wife Cindy found relief from the nausea caused by her life-saving breast cancer treatments by using marijuana. Medical marijuana legislation passed the New Hampshire House of Representatives in a 221-96 vote last year. SB 409 could receive a vote in the New Hampshire Senate as soon as next week.
A medical marijuana bill, House Bill 294, was set to get a hearing in the House Health and Human Resources Committee, possibly as early as mid-week this week. If it hasn't happened by the time you read this, it will soon.
Last Thursday, Bellingham police raided three medical marijuana dispensaries and arrested their employees. Those hit were the Northern Cross Collective, The Joint Cooperative, and the KGB Collective. All three collectives had been hit with cease and desist orders a week earlier after they continued to operate without business permits. The city had begun revoking or denying permits to medical marijuana businesses in late 2011. The city maintains that their sale of marijuana violates state law. The collectives had been preparing to seek a temporary injunction, but the raids came the day before.
On Tuesday, the DC City Council voted to impose new limits on the city's medical marijuana program. They approved a proposal to ban cultivation centers from opening in "retail priority areas" flagged for development in selected pockets of land across the city. The city Department of Health is set to award 10 cultivation center permits by the end of this month and five dispensary permits by June 8. It's only been more than 13 years since voters approved medical marijuana in the District, and two years since Congress removed its bar blocking the District from proceeding.