No DEA raids or federal threat letters to report this week, but the battles over medical marijuana continue on many fronts. Let's get to it:
Last Friday, GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan said medical marijuana was a states' rights issue. The comments came in Colorado, where the feds have been targeting medical marijuana dispensaries and where legalization is on the ballot. "My personal positions on this issue have been let the states decide what to do with these things," he said in an interview with a local TV reporter. "This is something that is not a high priority of ours as to whether or not we go down the road on this issue. What I've always believed is the states should decide. I personally don't agree with it, but this is something Coloradans have to decide for themselves." But Ryan, who has a previous voting record opposing states rights to medical marijuana, did half a backtrack the next day, when one of his spokesmen explained that Ryan "agrees with Mitt Romney that marijuana should never be legalized."
As of last Tuesday, there were 472 dispensaries in Los Angeles, according to UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs professor Bridget Freisthler, who counted them. That's less than half the number suggested by anti-dispensary City Councilmember Jose Huizar, and about equal to the number of bars in the city or about 20% of the outlets that sell alcohol. Huizar's "gentle ban" on dispensaries has been blocked after advocates delivered petitions seeking a vote on the matter.
Last Tuesday, a state appeals court upheld the Riverside County ban on dispensaries in unincorporated parts of the county. The 4th District Court of Appeals in Riverside affirmed the county's power to ban in a case involving the Nature's Relief Group outside Murrieta and the MOSA Collective in Thousand Palms. Last November, the same appellate justices upheld the city of Riverside's blanket ban on cannabis dispensaries, bolstering the county's efforts to shutter more than 30 such storefront operations then in business.
Also last Tuesday, the Collins Collective sued the LAPD over threats made by police officers as the collective was in the process of constructing a building to operate in. Their lawsuit claims police last month threatened "severe repercussions" if the collective opened, and that they said they would forcibly shut it down and arrest the members. The lawsuit says LAPD then returned and reiterated those threats. The collective is seeking a temporary restraining order, followed by a preliminary injunction and ultimately a permanent injunction that would prevent the city and its employees from enforcing the city's ban against the plaintiff and its qualified patient members and a declaration that the city's actions are unconstitutional under state law.
On Monday, the Clovis city council introduced an ordinance to regulate indoor grows. The city already bans outdoor marijuana gardens, dispensaries and patient-to-patient sales. The city would ban all cultivation entirely if it could, said Mayor Jose Flores. Since it can't, it settled for restricting the growing of pot plants to a 32-square-foot indoor area that can't be seen from the outside. The ordinance gets a second and final vote next week.
Also on Monday, the Palo Alto city council voted to take a stand against a dispensary initiative that would legalize and tax up to three dispensaries in the city. The unanimous vote came after the council worried that dispensaries "can lead to 'secondary effects' in our neighborhoods, such as illicit drug sales, loitering and even criminal activity."
On Wednesday, San Jose city council members proposed an ordinance to target dispensaries that fail to pay city taxes. Council members Sam Liccardo, Rose Herrera and Pierluigi Oliverio cited "millions" in business taxes not being paid in the past year alone by marijuana clubs as required under the city's voter-approved Measure U. That measure allows the city to tax marijuana collectives up to 10% of their total sales, though the council later adjusted that to a maximum of 7%.
As of last week, Boulder's medical marijuana industry has shrunk dramatically from its high point in 2010. There were more than 200 medical marijuana businesses operating in the city then; now there are just 26 dispensaries and 32 grow operations in the city. Dispensary operators say the city's strict approach to regulation has pushed even "good" operators out of business.
As of August, the number of medical marijuana card holders was on the rise again, for the first time since May 2011, in the wake of DEA raids across the state and an attack on medical marijuana by Republican state legislators. There are 8,849 card holders, up five people from the previous month. The number of Montana medical-marijuana cardholders peaked at 31,522 in May 2011.
Last Thursday, medical marijuana lobbyist Tom Daubert avoided federal prison time when he was sentenced to five years probation for his role in operating medical marijuana businesses, including Montana Cannabis. Daubert pleaded guilty in April to a charge of conspiracy to maintain drug-involved premises, which carries a maximum potential sentence of 20 years in prison. He formed Montana Cannabis with partners Richard Flor, Chris Lindsey and Chris Williams. Flor pleaded guilty in April to maintaining drug-involved premises and was sentenced to five years in prison, but he died in custody last month after being moved to Nevada from a private prison in Montana. Lindsey and Williams face trial later this year. Daubert had headed Patients and Citizens United, which led the fight for the successful 2004 medical marijuana initiative.
On Tuesday, the state Supreme Court overturned a temporary restraining order blocking enforcement of part of the legislature's extremely restrictive rewrite of the voter-approved medical marijuana law. There is no fundamental right for patients to use any drug, particularly one like medical marijuana that’s illegal under federal law, the court held in reversing a lower court decision. "In pursuing one's health, an individual has a fundamental right to obtain and reject medical treatment," Justice Michael Wheat wrote for the majority. "But, this right does not extend to give a patient a fundamental right to use any drug, regardless of its legality." Last year, medical marijuana supporters obtained enough signatures to place the 2011 law on the ballot as a referendum. Voters on Nov. 6 will decide whether to keep or reject the law.
Last Tuesday, 11 people were charged with faking medical marijuana petition signatures in a scheme that helped keep the initiative off the November ballot. The eleven, including eight University of North Dakota football players, were paid $9 an hour to gather signatures for two initiatives, but Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said that many of the petition signatures were copied from phone books or fabricated.
On Tuesday, police raided the 45th Parallel dispensary in Ontario. They alleged violations of the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act, but did not say what they seized, if anything. A local activist said police seized a small, legal, medical marijuana grow and that there was no usable marijuana on the premises. No arrests were made.
Last Wednesday, Tacoma ordered three medical marijuana businesses to shut down immediately. The city Finance Department hand-delivered letters to Emerald Pharms, T-Town Alternative Medicine and The Vape Bar, all in South Tacoma. More such letters could follow, a city spokesperson said. After nearly two years of deliberation and a long moratorium, the council decided last month to regulate medical marijuana under its nuisance code. Collective gardens, which are expressly permitted under state law, will be tolerated, but dispensaries will not.
Last Thursday, King County sheriff's detectives raided an Issaquah collective and seized some of the 536 plants and 65 pounds of processed marijuana. They left 135 plants and 15 pounds of pot. It's unclear if deputies knew they were raiding a collective when they went in, but they said they found expired paperwork for the garden and a registered felon in possession of a handgun. No arrests were made, but detectives forwarded the case to the King County Prosecutor's Office for review.
On Monday, Seattle proposed new rules for medical marijuana enterprises. While the city supports medical marijuana, the rules seek to limit "large-scale cannabis-related activity" in residential zones, tourism areas, and neighborhood commercial zones. In those areas, marijuana businesses would be limited to growing 45 plants and having six pounds of marijuana on hand.