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Medical Marijuana Update

Regulated dispensaries are coming to Oregon, it's looking increasingly likely that a medical marijuana initiative is coming to Florida, New York's governor sticks a toe in the water, and California battles continue. Let's get to it:

California

Last Thursday, a superior court judge upheld Los Angeles' medical marijuana ordinance limiting the number of dispensaries that can operate in the city. Superior Court Judge Randolph Hammock ruled that Proposition D, which was approved by voters in May, does not violate the due process or equal protection rights of dispensary owners being forced out of business.

Last Friday, advocates asked the state Supreme Court to review a ruling that allows cities to ban all marijuana growing within in their boundaries. The court is being asked to review an appeals court decision in Maral v. City of Live Oak allowing the ban on personal patient grows. Advocates acknowledge that the Supreme Court decided in City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center, Incthat localities can ban dispensaries, but argue that cultivation for personal medicinal use is specifically protected by statute.

On Tuesday, the Santa Rosa city council eased the rules on dispensaries. The changes, which included elimination of patient caps, expansion of hours of operation, and allowing dispensaries to sell pipes and other devices used to ingest marijuana, were approved by the council unanimously. Dispensaries had labored under a 500-patient cap that only served to lead competitors to open up shop outside the city limits. The number of dispensaries remains capped at two, but now the city manager has discretion to increase that number in the future.

Also on Tuesday, the Long Beach city council approved putting a dispensary sales tax on the ballot. The tax would start at 6% and could increase up to 10%. The measure also includes a tax of $15 to $50 per square foot for grow areas in dispensaries. The measure will go to votes on April 8.

Also on Tuesday, Fresno County supervisors banned all marijuana cultivation in the county's unincorporated areas beginning next month. The move came over the strenuous objections of medical marijuana users. The unanimous vote includes fines of $1,000 per plant and $100 per plant per day for each day the plants remain after being discovered. Fresno becomes the first county to ban all medical marijuana cultivation.

Florida

On Tuesday, medical marijuana initiative backers said they were near to a million signatures. It's starting to look like People United for Medical Marijuana ballot initiative may actually qualify for the ballot. Organizers need just over 683,000 valid signatures by February 1 and now say they will hit the million-signature mark by next week. If organizers succeed in coming up with enough valid signatures, they still have to wait for the state Supreme Court to rule on whether the initiative's ballot title and summary meet legal requirements. It has been challenged by Attorney General Pam Bondi (R).

New York

On Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced he would institute a limited medical marijuana program. The plan would allow a small number of hospitals in the state to recommend medical marijuana, but relies on the cooperation of federal agencies not known for cooperating with efforts to expand medical marijuana -- the DEA, the FDA, and NIDA. Advocates complained that Cuomo did not call for the passage of comprehensive legislation, which is pending in Albany.

Oregon

On Tuesday, state officials said draft dispensary rules would be posted within a week. The rules, which will be the basis of a statewide dispensary regulations system approved by the legislature, will next undergo public hearings and could be revised before being finalized. In the meantime, dispensary operators can seek temporary operating licenses under the draft rules beginning March 3.

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

Chronicle AM -- January 8, 2014

East Coast governors speak against marijuana legalization, but DC voters may get a chance to have their own voices heard; a new report on Obamacare's implications for drug reform is out; the DEA is reported to have talked to the Sinaloa Cartel; and details of a Mexico City marijuana legalization bill emerge. And more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

DC Activists to File Marijuana Legalization Initiative This Week.The nation's capital could vote on marijuana legalization this year. Activists there plan to submit a legalization initiative to city officials by week's end. Because of quirks in District law, the initiative will not seek to allow retail marijuana sales -- that would require action by the DC city council -- but would allow adults to possess and consume marijuana and grow up to six plants.

DOJ Will Reportedly Issue Guidance on Marijuana Banking Soon. The Wall Street Journal has reported that the Justice Department will soon issue a memo with guidelines for financial institutions dealing with legal marijuana businesses. Insiders said the current draft document emphasizes that federal enforcement priorities will be directed toward those who use legal marijuana sales as a front for other criminal activity, funnel it across state lines, or sell it as part of a broader drug dealing conspiracy. But how financial institutions are supposed to know which of their marijuana customers are drawing federal interest remains unclear, suggesting that, as it stands, the draft memo will not satisfy banks.

Rhode Island Governor Calls Marijuana Legalization "Premature." Gov. Lincoln Chafee (I) said Tuesday Rhode Island should wait to see how legalization plays out in Colorado and Washington before trying it there. He added that it was premature to consider legalization before seeing how the state's 2013 decriminalization law is working out.

Maryland Governor Opposes Marijuana Legalization. Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) said Wednesday that while he was open to expanding access to medical marijuana, he opposed general legalization. "I'm not much in favor of it," he said. "We've seen what drug addiction has done to the people of our state, to the people of our city."

Oregon Legislature Could Discuss Legalization Next Month. With plans afoot to field a marijuana legalization initiative in Oregon this year, legislators are hinting they may want to take a crack at it first. Rep. Jennifer Williamson (D-Portland) told a local meeting she expects legislators to take up the issue in the session that begins February 3.

Medical Marijuana

Oregon Medical Marijuana Dispensary Rules Due in Days. State officials said Tuesday that draft rules for the state's newly-regulated dispensary industry should be posted within a week. Then will come a series of public hearings before the rules are finalized. In the meantime, dispensaries will be able to operate under temporary rules, with applications accepted beginning March 3.

New York Governor's Medical Marijuana Plan "Unworkable," MPP Says. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) is expected to announce an executive order allowing limited medical marijuana availability today, but the Marijuana Policy Project called Cuomo's proposal "unworkable," saying it would require the cooperation of the DEA, NIDA, and the FDA, none of which have been amenable to such projects. MPP says the solution is for the legislature to pass pending medical marijuana legalization.

Obamacare and Drug Policy

New DPA/ACLU Issue Brief Discusses Affordable Care Act's Impact on Drug Policy. A new issue brief from the Drug Policy Alliance and the American Civil Liberties Union reviews provisions of the Affordable Care Act relevant to drug policy, as well as how the ACA can help recast the drug policy debate. The brief is Healthcare Not Handcuffs: Putting the Affordable Care Act to Work for Criminal Justice and Drug Policy Reform.

International

DEA Met With Sinaloa Cartel Leaders, Mexican Newspaper Says. Members of the DEA and the Justice Department met secretly with leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel to gain information about rival cartels, the Mexico City newspaper El Universal reported Monday. The meetings took place without the knowledge of Mexican officials, although US authorities on some occasions provided Mexican authorities with information derived from the meetings. The newspaper identified the DEA or Justice Department employees present at the meetings as Steve Fraga, Manuel Castañon, David Herrad and Carlos Mitchem.

CuPIHD Publishes Study of Mexico City Drug Markets. Mexico's Collective for an Integrated Drug Policy (CuPIHD) has published a quantitative and qualitative analysis of Mexico City illicit drug markets, describing the size and characteristics of the drug markets, as well as how drug users perceive and interact with their legal, economic, institutional, and social environments. The English-language version of the study is Drugs DF: The Illegal Drug Markets of Mexico City.

Draft Reveals Details of Mexico City Marijuana Legalization Bill. The Mexico City web site Animal Politico has obtained a draft of a bill being worked on by a team of leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) to advance marijuana reform in the federal district. The bill would completely decriminalize the possession of marijuana, make marijuana possession and distribution "zero priority" offenses for law enforcement, and create a system of dispensaries to sell marijuana for therapeutic reasons. The proposed bill would require changes in, or, at least, exemptions from, some existing federal laws.

Chronicle AM -- January 7, 2014

Another poll shows solid majority support for marijuana legalization, Florida's medical marijuana initiative appears to be within reach of qualifying for the ballot (if the state Supreme Court doesn't block it), Sweden's justice minister falls for a pot deaths hoax, and a UN official has a grim warning on Afghanistan. And more. Let's get to it:

Letting New Hampshire legislators know... (Facebook)
Marijuana Policy

CNN Poll Has Support for Legalization at 55% Nationwide. A new CNN/ORC International poll has support for marijuana legalization at 55% nationwide, up 12 points in two years. The poll also shows a dramatic decline in the number of people who think using marijuana is immoral.

Rally Called as New Hampshire House Votes on Marijuana Legalization Tomorrow. Supporters of House Bill 492, the marijuana legalization bill, are rallying tomorrow morning at the state house as the House prepares to vote on it. Click on the link for more details.

Galesburg, Illinois, Semi-Decriminalization Ordinance Passes. The Galesburg city council Monday night approved an ordinance that gives police the option of ticketing instead of arresting people caught with less than 2.5 grams of marijuana. The city had 68 pot possession arrests last year, costing about $1,100 each to process through the courts.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Initiative Backers Closing in on One Million Signature Mark. It's starting to look like the People United for Medical Marijuana ballot initiative may qualify for the ballot. Organizers need just over 683,000 valid signatures by February 1 and now say they will hit the million-signature mark by next week. If organizers succeed in coming up with enough valid signatures, they still have to wait for the state Supreme Court to rule on whether the initiative's ballot title and summary meet legal requirements. It has been challenged by Attorney General Pam Bondi (R).

New York Governor to Establish Medical Marijuana Program by Executive Action. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) will announce at his State of the State address tomorrow that he will use his executive powers to implement a limited medical marijuana program.

Drug Testing

Sisters Sue Chicago Housing Authority over Drug Testing Policies. A pair of sisters who live in a mixed-income development owned by the Chicago Housing Authority have filed suit in federal court over the CHA's policy of requiring suspicionless drug testing of residents. DeAnn and Jessica Steubenfield filed the suit in the fall. It is at least the second lawsuit filed against the CHA over the practice; the ACLU of Illinois filed its own lawsuit earlier. The two cases will get a joint hearing in May. CHA is the only housing authority in the country to require suspicionless drug testing.

Law Enforcement

Washington State Drug Task Force Pays $375,000 in Snitch's Murder. Four law enforcement agencies that make up Washington's Cowlitz-Wahkiakum Narcotics Task Force have agreed to pay the parents of a murdered snitch $375,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging that the cops failed to protect the man after using him to arrest a heroin dealer. Jeremy McLean, 26, agreed to snitch in a bid to avoid charges of his own, and was killed by one of the people he ratted out. The killer is now doing life in prison.

International

Afghanistan Could Become "Fragmented Criminal State," UN Drug Expert Warns. Afghanistan's booming narcotics trade risks splintering the country into a "fragmented criminal state" if the government and its western allies do not step up efforts to tackle opium production, a senior UN official has warned. Opium farming hit a record high this year, and Jean-Luc Lemahieu, outgoing head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime's Afghanistan office, said production would likely continue to soar before it falls. "If we are not careful, then Afghanistan has a real risk of becoming a fragmented criminal state," he said.

Uruguay Could Become Medical Marijuana Research Hub. Uruguayan presidential spokesman Diego Canepa told the Associated Press Monday that foreign laboratories have told the government they want to set up labs there to study the potential medicinal uses of marijuana. "Uruguay will become a hub for biotechnology," he said. One report said that Canada is discussing the possibility of importing Uruguayan weed for its medical marijuana program.

Swedish Justice Minister Bites on Colorado Marijuana Overdose Hoax. Swedish Justice Minister Beatrice Ask is facing ridicule for posting on her Facebook page a spoof article that claimed 37 people died of marijuana overdoses the day Colorado legalized the weed. She accompanied her post with comments about her zero-tolerance views on drugs. "Stupid and sad," she wrote above the hoax article. "My first bill in the youth wing was called Outfight the Drugs! In this matter I haven't changed opinion at all." After criticism emerged in social media, her press minister tried to explain that she knew the article was fake and was trying to criticize its publisher for joking about a serious matter.

Kyrgyzstan Addiction Doctor, Politician Says Legalize Marijuana. Addiction specialist and former Kyrgyz presidential candidate Jenishbek Nazaraliev is calling for marijuana to be legalized to reduce drug addiction, fight street crime, and increase tax revenues. He is calling on the government to create a pilot program for legal production near Lake Issyk-Kul, where two-thirds of families are already growing marijuana for the black market. But Kyrgyzstan's State Drug Control Service disagrees.

NY Governor to Establish Medical Marijuana Program by Executive Action

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) will use his State of the State address Wednesday to announce he will sign an executive order to allow the limited use of marijuana, the New York Times reported Saturday. The move comes as the state legislature is set to debate pending medical marijuana legislation in Albany.

Andrew Cuomo
The executive order will cite a 1980 law that allows for the use of controlled substances to treat serious illnesses. The narrowly-tailored program will allow only 20 hospitals statewide to provide marijuana to patients suffering from a short list of specified conditions. The Department of Health, in consultation with experts, will be charged with drafting regulations for the program.

Under that 1980 law, a little-known bit of New York medical marijuana history occurred. The state Department of Health study conducted a large scale clinical trial using NIDA-supplied marijuana cigarettes to study the effectiveness of inhaled marijuana in preventing nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy. That study found that marijuana was as effective or more effective than standard anti-emetics 93% of the time.

The move is a departure for Gov. Cuomo, who has previously expressed opposition to medical marijuana. The governor's apparent change of heart on the issue could spur the state Senate, which has yet to even hold a hearing on the pending bill, to finally act.

The move is a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done, said advocates.

"We thank the governor for his leadership and for taking action on behalf of some suffering patients in New York," said Gabriel Sayegh, state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "With the Senate failing to act, patients have been left to suffer. The governor is doing everything he can within his executive power to help alleviate the suffering of some patients, without having to wait on the Senate."

But, Sayegh noted, a 34-year-old law may not be sufficient to address issues around medical marijuana, and that means the legislature isn't off the hook.

"The legislature still needs to act," he said. "Comprehensive medical marijuana legislation has long languished in Albany. The Assembly has on four occasions passed the Compassionate Care Act, but the Senate has failed to take action or even hold a hearing on the issue. The logjam in the Republican-controlled State Senate has made New York the only state in the Northeast without a medical marijuana program -- so New Yorkers continue to suffer while residents in neighboring states can gain much-needed relief. That's not acceptable."

Albany, NY
United States

Chronicle AM -- January 6, 2014

Marijuana continues to suck all the air out of the room when it comes to drug policy, with news on the legalization, medical, and international fronts. The only non-marijuana-related item we have today is the murder of a confidential informant. Let's get to it:

Maryland Senate President Ready to Legalize Marijuana. Maryland Senate President Thomas "Mike" Miller Jr. said Friday he would support legislation to legalize and tax marijuana. "I favor the legalization and taxation of marijuana, with restrictions," Miller said. "I know where people are going to be a generation or two from now."

Arizona Activists Aim at 2016 Marijuana Legalization Initiative. A drive to put a marijuana legalization on the ballot this year in Arizona is going nowhere. Supporters have gathered only 10,000 of the 259,200 signatures needed by July 3 to qualify for the ballot, and have no money to fund signature gathering, so they are now looking to 2016, when big bucks are more likely to be available.

Rasmussen Low-Ball Poll Has Support for Marijuana Legalization at Only 41%. A new poll from the conservative pollster Rasmussen has support for legalization at only 41%, with 50% opposed. That's down three points from a Rasmussen poll last August. The Rasmussen polls are low end outliers; most other polls show support for legalization at or above 50%.

Medical Marijuana

New York Governor to Move on Medical Marijuana. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) will issue an executive order allowing a small number of hospitals in the state to recommend medical marijuana to patients. He is expected to make the formal announcement during his state of the state address Wednesday.

West Virginians Rally for Medical Marijuana As Polls Finds Support. Small numbers of people rallied in Huntington Sunday in support of medical marijuana. They also set up shop over the weekend in front of the Cabell County Courthouse, holding signs and educating passersby. Lawmakers are preparing to reintroduce legislation there, and a new poll finds that 56% of West Viriginians support legalizing medical marijuana, up three points from last year.

Tennessee Legislator Files Medical Marijuana Bill. Rep. Sherry Jones (D-Nashville) has filed a bill that would allow for the use of medical marijuana under limited conditions. The last effort to legalize medical marijuana in Tennessee went nowhere in 2012.

Guam Senator Wants Medical Marijuana Bill Discussed This Month. Sen. Tina Muna Barnes (D-Mangilao) said she is working on amendments to her pending medical marijuana legislation, Bill 215, and wants it discussed this month. If that doesn't happen, the bill should go to the floor sometime in the first quarter of the year, she said.

Law Enforcement

Oregon Snitch Killed. An Oregon man was working as an informant for the Polk County Interagency Narcotics Team (POINT) when he was killed by the people he was trying to set up last month, according to a police affidavit unsealed last Thursday. James Hawkes IV was beaten, shocked with a stun gun, hogtied, and gagged before his disfigured body was left near a cemetery. Two men now face murder charges in his death.

International

Peru Should Consider Marijuana Legalization, Former Drug Head Says. Former head of DEVIDA, the Peruvian drug agency, Ricardo Soberon, has called on the government there to open a dialogue on marijuana legalization. "We must open the debate with Carmen Masias, the President of DEVIDA, and the Peruvian Medical School. Let's open a forum that deals, first and foremost, with the health issues and secondly with safety and the implications of [marijuana] use," Soberon said. "The possibility of removing the criminal element from the cannabis trade -- a drug that is a lot less dangerous than others -- is the answer to 50 years of repeating the same strategies with no results."

New Zealand Cannabis Party Wants Marijuana Treated Like Legal Highs. The Aotearoa Legalize Cannabis Party is calling on the government to amend the Psychoactive Substances Act to include marijuana. The groundbreaking act seeks to deal with new synthetic drugs by regulating them instead of banning them. The party notes that the government has already approved several synthetic cannabinoids, so why not the real thing?

Cuomo to Establish NY Medical Marijuana Program Based on '80s-Era Legislation

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) plans to use his executive powers to allow the limited use of medical marijuana, the New York Times reported Sunday.

He will issue an executive order allowing just 20 hospitals statewide to recommend medical marijuana for patients suffering from cancer, glaucoma, or other diseases authorized by the state Department of Health.

The move is something of a reversal for Cuomo, who has opposed medical marijuana pending in the state legislature. Cynics might suggest he is trying to burnish his progressive credentials with a limited opening, but undercut the pending bill, which would be less restrictive. In any case, the Times says he will make it official during Wednesday's state of the state speech.

Dr. Sunil Aggarwal, a prominent medical marijuana advocate, has pointed out that New York's state's Department of Health conducted medical marijuana research during the 1980s under the legislation that Cuomo cited as the legislative basis for his action. An article in the Journal of Cannabis Therapeutics discusses the New York research, which it describes as large scale and designed in accordance with FDA phase III clinical trial procedure, on pages 51-52.

Whether New York can move forward with this kind of program in the absence of licensing that the DEA in recent decades has refused to grant is unclear. Along with recent legislation passed in Maryland calling for medical marijuana distribution academic medical centers, and petitions filed by the governors of Rhode Island and Washington state, it should at least up the pressure on the administration to rein in DEA's obstruction on this issue.

Location: 
Albany, NY
United States

Chronicle AM -- January 3, 2014

Today is one of those days when it seems like drug reform is all about marijuana. We have four domestic stories -- all about marijuana policy -- and two international stories--both about marijuana policy. And then there's the "Breaking Bad" contest winner thinking he's Florida's answer to Walter White. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Colorado Marijuana Shops Did a Million Dollars in Business New Year's Day. According to Colorado's 9 News, shops across the state sold more than a million dollars worth of marijuana on the first day of legal sales. The state has estimated that sales could amount to as much as $600 million by year's end, but more shops are going to have to open and business remain brisk to reach that target.

New Mexico Senator Wants Referendum on Marijuana Legalization. State Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino (D-Albuquerque) said Thursday he plans to file a bill for a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana. If approved by the legislature, the measure would go directly to voters in the November election.

New Hampshire House Votes on Marijuana Legalization Next Wednesday. The New Hampshire House will open its 2014 session next Wednesday with a vote on marijuana legalization. The bill before it, House Bill 492, would allow adults to use, possess, and cultivate limited amounts of marijuana with no penalty. The bill would also set up a taxed and regulated market for marijuana production and sale.

Galesburg, Illinois, Ponders Semi-Decriminalization of Marijuana. The Galesburg City Council is considering the approval of a new municipal law relaxing penalties for cannabis possession. Under the proposal, police could either arrest or ticket people caught possessing less than 2.5 grams. The city hopes to raise revenue from fines and redirect law enforcement resources.

Law Enforcement

"Breaking Bad" Contest Winner Busted for Cooking Drugs. In the life imitates art department, a Florida man who won a September contest to watch the series finale of AMC's "Breaking Bad" with the show's cast in Los Angeles has been arrested on charges he had a synthetic marijuana (not meth) lab in his home. Ryan Carroll faces one misdemeanor and two felony charges after his New Year's Eve arrest. "It's such a great show," Carroll said after winning the contest. "I think it's addicting because people can relate to the main character." Can you say foreshadowing?

International

Paraguay President Says No to Marijuana Legalization. Paraguayan President Horacio Cortes isn't taking a cue from neighboring Uruguay, which has legalized marijuana commerce. Cortes told the Associated Press Thursday he opposes legalization because marijuana is an addictive drug and he's seen former classmates "suffer and die" from its effects. Paraguay is the largest marijuana producer in South America, but its low-quality bulk product has the same cachet in South American that Mexican "brick weed" does in North America.

No Marijuana Legalization in the Philippines, Either. A spokesman for Filipino President Benigno Aquino III said Friday that the Philippines is not headed down the path of marijuana legalization. "It is prohibited under the Dangerous Drugs Act. It will remain as such until Congress amends the law," Malacanang Palace deputy spokesman Abigail Valte said during a news briefing. Valte didn't encourage Congress to move in that direction.

Chronicle AM -- January 2, 2014

The New Year starts off with a whole bunch of marijuana news, the DEA Cartagena prostitution scandal gets an update, another Republican governor calls for welfare drug testing, and a South Korean comedian gets hammered for toking up. And more. Let's get to it:

South Korean comedian and actress Song In Hwa gets sent to jail for smoking pot. (Facebook)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Marijuana Stores Open for Business; Sky Doesn't Fall, But Crowds Form. Crowds of would-be customers braved long lines in frigid, snow-blown conditions Wednesday to be able to participate in the historic first day of legal retail marijuana sales to adults in Colorado. The biggest apparent problem was feared supply shortages, leading some retailers to either limit purchases to a quarter-ounce (state law allows purchases of up to an ounce for residents) or raise prices, or both.

Washington State Marijuana Business Applications Top 5,000. As of year's end, state officials have processed more than 5,000 marijuana business applications, the state Liquor Control Board, which is in charge of the process, said Tuesday. There were 1,312 applications for retail outlets, but the state plans to cap their number at 324, so there will be competition. There were also 2,113 applications for cultivation licenses and 1,512 for processing facilities. And there will be more. Although the application window closed December 20, officials are still processing backlogged applications.

New Hampshire House to Vote This Month on Legalizing Marijuana. The New Hampshire House will vote later this month on a bill that would legalize the possession of up to an ounce by adults 21 and over. But even if it passes the House, it faces an uphill battle. Last year, the Senate rejected a bill to decriminalize a quarter-ounce, and Gov. Margaret Hassan (D) opposed even decrim.

Vermont Marijuana Legalization Bill Introduced. State Sen. David Zuckerman (P-Chittenden) has introduced a bill to tax, regulate, and legalize the production, sale, and use of marijuana, but he said he doubted it would pass this year. The state decriminalized possession last year, and Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) has said legalization isn't a priority this year. The Marijuana Policy Project said it would use this year to build a consensus for legalization, with an eye on 2015.

Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Coming Back in Hawaii. Marijuana decriminalization got through the state Senate last year, but got stuck in the House. Proponents will try again this year, Pam Lichty of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii told local media.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Medical Marijuana Law Goes Into Effect. Illinois' medical marijuana law went into effect on New Year's Day. Sort of. Patients aren't protected until they have signed up with a state registry, which will not be open until the spring at the earliest, and regulatory agencies are going to spend the next four months establishing rules and regulations for cultivation and distribution. Cultivation applications might be accepted by the fall. In the meantime, the state has created the Medical Marijuana Pilot Program web site, which will have updates and information on the state's progress.

Washington State Wants Medical Marijuana Businesses to Pay Taxes. The state Department of Revenue said Tuesday it will send letters to several hundred medical marijuana businesses informing them that they need to be registered and paying taxes. The department is giving the businesses until January 24 to comply. Some medical marijuana businesses already pay taxes, but others don't, arguing that medical marijuana should be treated like prescription drugs, which are untaxed.

Drug Testing

Mississippi Governor to Push for Welfare Drug Testing. In an interview with the Associated Press, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) said he wants to require drug tests for recipients of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program. Bryant's comments came just hours after a federal judge threw out Florida's suspicionless welfare drug testing law as unconstitutional and as "reasonable suspicion" welfare drug testing laws in states like Utah and Minnesota have come under fire as costly and unnecessary.

Law Enforcement

Sleazy Details of DEA Cartagena Prostitution Scandal Emerge. A FOIA request from Foreign Policy has resulted in the release of a Justice Department Office of the Inspector General report on the scandal surrounding Secret Service and DEA agents who accompanied President Obama to the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, in April 2012. The report is full of juicy, sleazy detail on agents making dozens of calls to prostitutes on their government-issued cell phones, searching for dates with transvestite prostitutes, and seeking to redefine "sex" as not including paying hookers to masturbate them and "prostitution" as not what they had engaged in by paying hookers for sex acts. The OIG said that latter claim defied "common sense and legal definitions." Click on the link for more.

International

South Korean Comedian Gets Six Months in Jail for Smoking Pot. South Korean comedian Song In Hwa was sentenced to six months in prison last Saturday after she was found guilty of using marijuana on two separate occasions, one of them in a Las Vegas hotel room, the other one with her older sister in an unspecified location. The older sister got hit even harder, getting two years in prison. Both sisters also received additional years of jail time with the remainder of the sentences suspended. "Marijuana use by a celebrity is not a light crime given its bad influence on society, but considering the defense's recognition of the crime, her reflection, and the fact that it was only two times, we gave her a suspended sentence," the court said.

Peru Will Seek to Increase Coca Eradication This Year. Peru has set a target of eradicating 75,000 acres of coca this year, the head of the country's anti-drug agency, DEVIDA, said Wednesday. That's up from about 58,000 acres actually eradicated last year. Peru has surpassed Colombia as the world's number one coca and cocaine producer, and the government of President Ollanta Humala has taken an increasingly hard line against illicit coca-growing. Eradication efforts will target the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro river valleys (VRAEM). The government also plans alternative development and crop substitution schemes for some 75,000 coca-growing families.

TNI Issues Report on Corruption and Drug-Related Violence in Rosario, Argentina. The Transnational Institute has released the first report in its new Briefing Series on Drug Markets and Violence, focusing on the interior Argentine city of Rosario. Illicit drug trafficking and associated violence and corruption went unremarked there until the killing on New Year's Day 2012 of three community activists sparked attention. Click on the link for the full report

Dutch Crackdown on Marijuana Grow Leads to Increased German Cultivation. German police said Thursday that they have seen a large increase in marijuana grows in empty buildings in the northeastern state of Mecklenburg Western-Pomerania. They blame a Dutch crackdown on marijuana growers that has been in place since 2011. Since then, German cops in the state have busted 50 big grows, up from one or two a year before then.

Swansea University Global Drug Policy Observatory Up and Running. The recently created Global Drug Policy Observatory at Britain's Swansea University, whose goal is "promoting evidence and human rights based drug policy through the comprehensive and rigorous reporting, monitoring and analysis of policy developments at national and international levels," is open for business. Check out its new web site by clicking on the link above.

Medical Marijuana Update

The dispensary and cultivation wars continue in California, dispensaries are delayed in Nevada, a bill moves in New Jersey, and more. Let's get to it:

California

On December 15, the Palm Springs city council set the dispensary tax at 10%. That's for legal dispensaries. Unapproved dispensaries will have to pay 15%. The council also approved issuance of a fourth dispensary license for the city.

Also on December 15, the Indio city council revisited regulating dispensaries. The city currently bans them, and got on an update on developments from the city attorney meant to get the council thinking about whether they want to continue the current ban in their city or consider allowing them down the line. No action was taken.

On December 17, the Yucca Valley town council heard advocates call for it to reopen the area's only dispensary. Alternative Medicinal Solutions was forced to close its doors last month after a sunset clause kicked in. It had been permitted in 2008, but the town council voted in 2010 to ban dispensaries. It gave Alternative Medicinal Solutions until last month to close its doors. An attempt at a reprieve failed on a 3-2 vote in November. Since the topic wasn't on the agenda, the council didn't debate it and took no action.

On December 18, activists in Riverside began collecting signatures for a ballot measure allowing a limited number of dispensaries. They need 12,000 signatures to qualify for the June 2015 election or 18,000 to get a special election called sooner. The "Riverside medical marijuana restriction and limitation act" would create a process to allow about 10 or fewer dispensaries to open in commercial and industrial zones and would set out rules for how they would operate.

On December 19, Napa activists announced a referendum to overturn the city council's repeal of the city's medical marijuana ordinance. Napa's medical marijuana dispensary ordinance provided for the operation of one dispensary -- and possibly one additional dispensary after one year, with the dispensaries to be selected based upon merit following a rigorous selection process. But the city council voted to repeal it on December 3.

On December 20, San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said a draft ordinance on dispensaries will go before the city council in February. The City Council passed regulations in 2011 that allowed dispensaries to open legally, but medical marijuana advocates considered them too restrictive and gathered enough signatures to get the ordinance rescinded. The result, however, was that storefront dispensaries were illegal once again, and city officials have been enforcing current laws to drive them out.

Last Tuesday, Lake County activists began signature gathering effort to force a popular vote on a marijuana cultivation ordinance recently passed by the board of supervisors. It bans outdoor cultivation in community growth boundaries; limits indoor grows to 100 square feet or less; keeps outdoor cultivation 1,000 feet from schools, parks or other facilities serving children; and 100 feet from water bodie; offers quicker abatement and makes the Lake County Sheriff's Office responsible for enforcement. The activists are organized as the Community Alliance to Ban Illegal Cannabis Cultivation (CABICC), which includes the United Food and Commercial Workers, CANORML, Americans for Safe Access, Patients Rights Coalition, Emerald Growers and California Cannabis Industry Association.

Florida

Last Friday, medical marijuana initiative organizers said they had gathered 700,000 signatures. United for Care needs some 683,000 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot, so organizers are hoping to have gathered 900,000 by the end of this month to provide a cushion for rejected signatures. The initiative still must be approved the state Supreme Court.

Maine

Last Thursday, Maine officials denied a request to use medical marijuana for Tourette's syndrome. The Department of Health and Human Services denied a request to add the disease to the list of qualifying medical conditions. The patient and his doctor had testified that medical marijuana helped the muscular tics caused by Tourette's, to no avail.

Nevada

Last Monday, a state official said dispensaries would not open until months after April 1, when a law allowing them goes into effect. Marla McDade Williams, deputy administrator of the state Division of Public and Behavioral Health, said the agency needs to hire more staff and that it could take up to four months to accept, review and approve license applications.

New Jersey

Last Monday, the Assembly passed a bill to expand the state's medical marijuana program. The bill would allow patients to obtain medical marijuana products outside the state and use them in New Jersey. Gov. Chris Christie (R) has vowed to veto it.

Oregon

On December 18, the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled that a medical marijuana patients whose hash was seized by police can have it back. Local prosecutors convinced a judge that hash wasn't covered under the state's law, but the appeals court disagreed.

Washington

On December 18, the state liquor control board recommended that patients be allowed to keep their personal marijuana grows. The recommendation reverses an earlier recommendation by regulators that the grows be eliminated under the state's marijuana legalization law, which does not allow home cultivation. But that earlier recommendation raised a real ruckus among patients and supporters, and the liquor control board has now changed its tune.

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

Colorado Makes History with First Legal Retail Marijuana Sales [FEATURE]

special to the Chronicle by Denver-based journalist Rebecca Chavez

For many people New Year's Eve means going to bars and celebrating with a night of drinking and carousing with their friends. For Adam Hartle and Anthony Hasham, the night was a little different. The duo flew into Denver from Jacksonville, Florida, in order to be first in line for Colorado's historic legal retail marijuana sales. Hartle and Hasham came prepared with a tent, and set up camp in front of 3D, Denver's Discrete Dispensary at 6:00pm on New Year's Eve. They were the first to arrive, making it even before the news cameras.

Adam Hartle and Anthony Hasham made the pilgrimage from Jacksonville, FL, to be first in line. (Rebecca Chavez)
While there are quite a few retail marijuana stores opening to the public on January 1, 3D was the place to be for those interested in being a part of history. The Marijuana Policy Project sent out a December 27 press release stating that they were recognizing the first sale at 3D as the first sale. With a press conference planned, and an Iraq war veteran slated to be the first retail customer, 3D was buzzing with excitement in the early hours of the new year.

There were over a dozen people standing around outside, eager to get their hands on some of the first retail marijuana sold in the country, but the majority of the crowd had a more professional purpose. News crews and industry insiders sat in the lobby of 3D, while owner Toni Fox rushed around talking to press and making last minute adjustments.

For Fox, the opening of 3D for retail sales has been a long process that is "the culmination of everything we've been working towards." Many dispensary owners planned to make the switch when they found out about Amendment 64, but Fox started planning in 2009. When she started looking for space for her dispensary, she did it with a retail location in mind. This early decision paid off in a big way when it came time to hand out marijuana licenses for the city of Denver. The retail space is large and well lit.

Denver's Discreet Dispensary (3D) is now open for sales to adults 21 and over. (Rebecca Chavez)
Unlike many other dispensaries, this retail location is completely separate from the medical area. Before sales start, the area is set up to help people find exactly what they need. Fox expects that a lot of people won't know what to do when they get to a retail marijuana facility, so she's tried to make purchasing easy for someone experiencing a dispensary for the first time.

She even made the decision to limit the retail edibles that she offers early on to only those from Dixie Elixer, one of the few edible companies set up for retail sales. This choice keeps people who want to try an edible for the first time from having to sift through a multitude of options.

The publicity of being the first marijuana store is a great boost for 3D, but Fox knows that there are some risks involved, especially regarding the much buzzed-about marijuana shortage. Though the limit for Colorado residents is higher, Fox decided that she wouldn't make any sales of more than the non-resident limit of seven grams. Still she is concerned.

The sign says it all. Welcome to a new era. (Rebecca Chavez)
When asked whether there is going to be enough product, she states that 3D should have enough to last until February. "Or Monday," she said, sharing a laugh with one of her employees while acknowledging that the truth about retail marijuana is that no one knows the extent of the demand just yet.

Judging from the size of the crowd inside the building right before the press conference began, the novelty of marijuana is going to drive a lot of people to businesses like 3D. Media sources from around the world jockeyed to get the best view of a small podium where the directors behind the Amendment 64 campaign prepared to say a few words about what retail sales mean for marijuana, and what the future brings.

This is business as usual for Mason Tvert, Betty Aldworth, and Brian Vicente, the organizers of the successful Amendment 64 campaign that made marijuana legal in Colorado and who have all been doing press conferences about it for years now. This one is a little more chaotic than usual, and that's because the message is so unique. Aldworth sums it up when she says that this moment is a shift, and that "marijuana sales will be a boon instead of a burden" on our communities and our economy.

From left: Toni Fox, Betty Aldworth, Mason Tvert, Sean Azzariti, Brian Vicente (Rebecca Chavez)
The first proof of this occurs with the very first sale. Sean Azzariti is a veteran who uses marijuana to treat his post traumatic stress disorder, but who cannot get medication because the state doesn't recognize PTSD as one of the ailments that allows for medical marijuana use.

For the first time, he will be able to legally purchase the marijuana that has helped him get through the years since he fought in the Iraq War. This sale will provide the city and state with valuable tax dollars, while also boosting the local economy and providing jobs for people who want to work in marijuana.

Cameras and reporters flooded into the retail sale room to document the moment of the first sale. Outside the building, the dozens of people lined up to purchasse legal marijuana kept multiplying. The line stretched across the length of the building and, despite the falling snow, people were all smiles as they awaited their chance to be a part of history.

As Tvert pointed out during the press conference, "Today there will be people around the nation buying marijuana," but only in Colorado is it legal and regulated.

Colorado has initiated a new era in marijuana policy in the United States, and Washington state will be joining later this year. With Alaska and Oregon both well-placed to legalize it this year via the initiative process, and with other states about to consider marijuana legalization bills in their legislatures, the beginning of the end of US marijuana prohibition has commenced.

Denver, CO
United States

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