Medical Marijuana Update

The federal rescheduling petition got a day in court, the feds keep up the pressure in California, a dispensary may actually open in New Jersey, and those are just the headlines. There's much more going on, too. Let's get to it:

National

Last week, the National League of Cities adopted a resolution on medical marijuana. The resolution calls on the federal government "to consider a precise interpretation of the CSA to recognize and address whether the medicinal use of marijuana in prescribed circumstances is or is not in conflict with the CSA." The cities complained that they are wasting valuable resources trying to address the conflict between state laws allowing medical marijuana and the federal government's absolutist position.

On Tuesday, the DC Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on an appeal of the DEA's decision to reject the marijuana rescheduling petition. Click on the link to read our feature story on it.

Arizona

Last Friday, a medical marijuana patient sued the state after police seized her marijuana-infused oil. Charise Voss Arfa claims police wrongfully considered the oil labeled "Soccer Moms Tincture" a narcotic instead of marijuana. A tincture is typically an alcoholic extract of plant or animal material or solution. The lawsuit argues the statute defining cannabis is too vague and should not apply to medical-marijuana cardholders who legally participate in the state program. The lawsuit asks the courts to order police to return the oil; to ban police from arresting, prosecuting or taking property from medical-marijuana cardholders; and to declare the state's criminal statute related to cannabis void as it applies to medical-marijuana patients and caregivers.

California

Last Wednesday, the DEA and local police raided seven Long Beach dispensaries and arrested more than 40 people. The raid is just the latest, though possibly the largest, crackdown on medical marijuana in Long Beach since the city's ban went into full effect in August. The ban was a reaction by city officials to a court ruling that the city can't regulate the drug because it is illegal under federal law. City Hall had worked for two years to come up with a permitting system and regulations to control the number of collectives, and once that law was voided, the city council voted to ban medical marijuana rather than risk its unregulated proliferation throughout the city.

Last Friday, G3 Holistic dispensary owner Aaron Sandusky was convicted of federal marijuana charges by a jury that heard no mention of medical marijuana. Sandusky, who operated three Southern California dispensaries, was convicted on two charges, but the jury could not agree on four other counts. He is now looking at a mandatory minimum 10 years in federal prison, and up to a life sentence. Sandusky, who had been free on bail, was immediately jailed.

Also last Friday, Concord elected officials said they are considering an ordinance to restrict medical marijuana cultivation. The move comes after complaints from residents about smelly outdoor grows. "Perhaps looking at having the growth indoors instead of outdoors, that would take care of some of the major concerns we have," said Mayor Ron Leone.

Also last Friday, activists filed papers with the city of Los Angeles for a May referendum to regulate -- not ban -- dispensaries in the city. The Angelenos for Safe Access Committee needs to gather enough signatures to make the ballot. The proposed initiative would increase the city tax on dispensaries from 5% to 6% of revenues, require dispensaries to register with the city, require background checks for operators and employees, and require that dispensaries respect distance requirements from schools and churches. The move comes after the city council first banned dispensaries, then voted to un-ban them in the face of another, successful petition drive.

Also last Friday, the city of Covina took legal action to shut down a dispensary. The city attorney had sought and won a temporary restraining order to shut down the LPC Center, which had opened in the city during the summer, but the dispensary didn't shut its doors. The new complaint alleges that the dispensary operators lack a business license and that the dispensary is a public nuisance because it is in violation of the city's municipal code. There will be a hearing next week where a judge will consider granting Covina a preliminary injunction to force the cooperative to close. According to the complaint, "distributing marijuana, whether for medical purposes or otherwise, is not a permitted use" under Covina's municipal code.

Last Saturday, voters in Eagle Rock rejected most of the medical marijuana slate in neighborhood council elections. The neighborhood has been hit hard by police actions against dispensaries, with support from the neighborhood council. Dispensary operators and supporters had called on Los Angeles residents to vote in the neighborhood election in support of dispensaries, leading to charges of unfair election practices.

On Monday, DEA agents visited some LA dispensaries that had received federal threat letters in September. Agents visited up to 21 dispensaries, reminding them that they needed to shut down. "We do have a couple agents doing follow up," said DEA spokeswoman Sarah Pullen. "It's routine since these letters are going out. We wanted to determine the status of where these places are at." In late September, the DEA targeted 68 dispensaries with threat letters and raided three. The feds aim at wiping out dispensaries in Eagle Rock and downtown LA.

On Tuesday, DEA agents visited an Eagle Rock dispensary, prompting it to close its doors. The Together for Change dispensary had opened in May, after the American Eagle Collective, which operated at the same location, was raided and shut down by LAPD. Together for Change is one of the 68 dispensaries targeted by September federal threat letters.

Also on Tuesday, the Sacramento city council moved to prohibit outdoor marijuana grows. The council voted 8-1 to direct city staffers to draft an ordinance barring them. Council members said the grows were a magnet for crime and a nuisance to neighbors. The council also voted to keep in place existing location restrictions on medical marijuana dispensaries. Those restrictions prohibit the shops from operating within 1,000 feet of other dispensaries, 300 feet from residences and 600 feet from schools and parks. The city has a moratorium on new dispensaries following the federal crackdown, but allows 17 already existing dispensaries to operate.

Colorado

As of the end of July, the number of registered medical marijuana patients passed the 100,000 mark for the first time since September 2011. That's according to figures released last week by the state Department of Public Health and Environment. The number of patients had peaked at more than 128,000 people in June 2011 before shrinking over a five-month period to just over 80,000. The decline was variously attributed to increased dispensary regulations, a glut of medical marijuana available from growers, and the $90 fee for registering.

On Tuesday, Carbondale trustees narrowly rejected a dispensary application. They voted 4-3 to deny CMED a business permit, even though the dispensary has been open for two years. CMED owner Michael Weisser, who has been caught in a regulatory wringer the entire time, demanded to know whether the town was shutting him down and was told the trustees would let him know."You'd better do it quick, because I'm going to move immediately for an injunction against the board," Weisser replied.

Maine

Last Saturday, Maine police returned plants stolen from a medical marijuana grower in Ellsworth. Police initially hesitated to return the plants, citing concerns about violating federal law, but then relented. The grower said he was able to save only part of the crop.

Michigan

Last Thursday, the Michigan Supreme Court has heard oral arguments in a case that will help determine whether dispensaries can sell marijuana to patients who don't grow their own. The case involves a Mount Pleasant dispensary that allowed members to sell marijuana to each other. It was prosecuted by Isabella County authorities, and the conviction was upheld last year by a state appeals court.

New Jersey

On Monday, the Greenleaf Compassion Center in Montclair received state permission to open. It would be the first in the state, and the permission comes nearly three years after the Garden State approved medical marijuana.

On Wednesday, the Compassionate Care Foundation said it wouldn't open a dispensary until next year. The foundation, which plans to open a dispensary in Egg Harbor Township near Atlantic City, has faced delays because of the state's extensive background check process.

New Mexico

On Monday, advocates announced a campaign to keep PTSD as a qualifying condition for the state's medical marijuana program. PTSD is currently a qualifying condition, but its status is threatened by a request to remove it. Advocates aid more than 3,000 New Mexico residents with PTSD are enrolled in the state's program. The advocates, including the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Patients Alliance, the Drug Policy Alliance, and others are calling the campaign Don't Take Away Our Medicine. "We deserve access to effective medical treatments whether we’ve just come home from combat or we are suffering debilitating symptoms from other trauma," said Chris Hsu, NM Medical Cannabis Patient’s Alliance’s Vice President.

Rhode Island

On Monday, the Rhode Island Medical Society joined a lawsuit against the state health department over its recent decision to only allow physicians -- not nurse practitioners and physicians' assistants -- to sign medical marijuana applications. The state ACLU had sued last week on behalf of the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition, Rhode Island Academy of Physician Assistants and a Bristol patient. Applications signed by nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants had previously been accepted. The medical society said the new policy was arbitrary and that doctors needed to be able to delegate responsibilities to other medical professionals.

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