Medical Marijuana Update

Federal agencies are beginning to work on the banking problem for medical marijuana businesses, the District of Columbia is looking at why its program is so tiny, and New Mexico can't keep up with medical marijuana demand. And there's much more, too. Let's get to it:

National

On Tuesday, a US Treasury official said the department is discussing banking for medical marijuana businesses with the Justice Department. Access to banking services has been a major roadblock for marijuana businesses, but the Obama administration has signaled it is willing to try to reach a workable solution to the problem.

Arizona

Last Friday, a judge ruled that the state's medical marijuana law did not limit the health care rights by preventing those living less than 25 miles away from a dispensary from growing their own medicine. Judge Katherine Cooper throw out the challenge from two men, but she said they may be able to try again by arguing that the 25-mile rule amounts to a violation of their rights under constitutional provisions guaranteeing everyone equal protection of the law. She said, though, they have yet to make a case for that claim.

California

Last Thursday, the city of Los Angeles filed suit to block a Mar Vista dispensary from opening. The suit claims the business would violate voter-approved rules for marijuana dispensaries because its proximity to a residential neighborhood and seeks penalties of up to $2,500 a day for anyone involved in operating a dispensary at that location.

On Monday, the city of Jurapa Valley said it had filed lawsuits against five dispensaries. The suits seek to force the dispensaries to close. The Riverside County community wants to shut down all dispensaries within its jurisdiction. The lawsuits follow sternly-worded letters sent out in September 2011 and again last summer warning dispensary operators of possible actions against them.

On Tuesday, Santa Cruz County supervisors grappled with cultivation rules for medical marijuana grows. The supervisors had already set new rules for dispensaries in unincorporated areas of the county and are preparing to vote December 10 on cultivation rules. The proposed rules would limit personal grows to 100 square feet, but allow up to 3,000 square feet in rural areas.

Also on Tuesday, the Richmond city council agreed to allow a dispensary to relocate to East Richmond. The Green Remedy Collective needed to move because its landlord is facing foreclosure, but wanted to move to a location zoned general use, which violates the city's guidelines. The city waived the zoning requirement.

Also on Tuesday, the Whittier city council voted to ban dispensaries. The ban passed 4-1 after several community and religious leaders spoke against allowing the outlets, claiming they have harmful effects on families and adolescents. The action was prompted by the approaching date for the expiration of the city's moratorium on issuing permits for medical marijuana dispensaries. The council imposed a 45-day moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries in January 2012; it has renewed the moratorium twice. The current moratorium is set to expire January 24, 2014, and it cannot be renewed.

Last Friday, the city of Santa Ana sent warning letters to all dispensaries in the city saying they must close by the end of the month or face $1,000 a day fines and misdemeanor criminal charges. The city has a dispensary ban in place, but activists there have managed to place a referendum on the November 2014 ballot that would allow dispensaries to operate.

District of Columbia

On Tuesday, news came that Mayor Gray has convened a Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee to assess current policies. The move comes amidst complaints that strict restrictions on eligibility for the District's medical marijuana program are preventing patients from taking advantage of it. An Intergovernmental Operations Subcommittee will monitor the effectiveness of the current medical marijuana program, and a Scientific Subcommittee will review applicable scientific research. Both subcommittees will review the practices of other states. Only 59 patients are enrolled in the program in the District and only 39 doctors are currently licensed to recommend medical marijuana.

Massachusetts

On Tuesday, the Brookline town meeting cleared the way for a dispensary to open there. The meeting passed three warrant articles designed to set up a licensing framework for medical marijuana businesses. Dispensaries must be at least 500 feet from a school.

Nevada

On Wednesday, the Reno city council approved a moratorium on dispensary business license applications. Las Vegas passed a similar temporary moratorium in September. Reno officials said they were waiting for the state to set final dispensary regulations before the 2013 medical marijuana law goes into effect on April 1.

New Jersey

On Monday, the state's third dispensary began accepting patient registrations. Garden State Dispensary (formerly known as Compassionate Care Center of America) is opening in Woodbridge, although when that will actually happen is not yet certain. Some 1,500 patients and caregivers have registered with the state program, which has gotten off to an excruciatingly slow start.

New Mexico

On Saturday, a survey of medical marijuana producers and patients found that demand is outstripping supply. New Mexico producers have had to turn away thousands of patients in recent months and ration supplies to others, the report found. The number of licensed producers has dropped from a high of 25 to 23, while the number of active patients certified to buy medical cannabis hit 10,289 as of the end of last month, according to state officials, increasing by 1,200 from earlier this year.

Oregon

Last Friday, the Tualatin city council voted to ban dispensaries. The town follows the lead of Medford, but both localities may be in conflict with Oregon's new dispensary law, which leaves regulation up to the state, not localities.

Pennsylvania

On Monday, medical marijuana supporters rallied at the state capitol in support of pending legislation that would allow for the use of medical marijuana by patients, including children. Senate Bill 1182, sponsored by Sens. Daylin Leach (D) and Mike Folmer (R) is the first bipartisan medical marijuana legislation in the state.

West Virginia

On Wednesday, the first details of a new medical marijuana bill emerged. An interim meeting of the Joint Health Committee heard from counsel Charles Roskovensky that the bill he is drafting for them would allow people with certain illnesses like cancer and glaucoma to possess up to six ounces of marijuana. If the bill becomes law, registered patients would be able to purchase medical marijuana at five 'compassion centers' throughout the state that would be chosen through a competitive bid process, he said. Registered patients would also be allowed to have a limited number of 12 marijuana plants. But Roskovensky said the bill wasn't yet in final form, and he solicited suggestions from lawmakers.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

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